15 Years Ago…

Fifteen years ago today, I was a freshman in high school.  It was just another normal day.  I was probably less than thrilled to be heading to my science class that morning, because I have never been big on the science.  I’m sure my friends and I had hung out in the commons or near someone’s locker that morning, I may have spent some time in the “band corner”, and now I had a couple of class periods under my belt for the day.

Fifteen years ago today, I walked into my 3/4 block period science class, Biology and Earth Science Studies 1, and the TV was either already on or was turned on soon after I got there.  The TV was tuned into CNN, because a plane had flown right into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. Continue reading →

Adventures in New Orleans and Mexico (On a Ship!)

My husband, Alan, and I have made a conscious decision to do as much traveling as possible before we start having kids.  Which is why we took another vacation only a matter of months since our honeymoon, because why not?  It just happened to time perfectly with the date we closed on our house and finished moving.

The first part of our vacation consisted of a weekend in New Orleans, since neither of us had ever been.  We got into the city very late on a Friday night, so our adventures started the next morning with a trip to Cafe du Monde to get some delicious beignets!

Yum!

Yum!

We spent much of Saturday walking around and exploring close to the river.  We went to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which was exciting to see, as we don’t have big aquariums like that in Columbus.

It was a beautiful day to walk around the city.

It was a beautiful day to walk around the city.

Just one of the many, many pictures I took at the aquarium (and one of the few that didn't turn out horribly).

Just one of the many, many pictures I took at the aquarium (and one of the few that didn’t turn out horribly).

Alan had also read somewhere online about people getting on the St. Charles streetcar and riding it all the way to the end, just to see the old neighborhoods and homes.  Since we had bought a three-day streetcar pass anyway, we figured, why not?  Once we actually got to sit down in the streetcar, it was fun to watch the neighborhoods go by.

Later that evening, after getting another delicious meal, we went to listen to a show at Preservation Hall, something my music nerd sister, Laura, had highly recommended that we do.

Sunday consisted of more delicious food!  We also went and explored the French Market before going to Mardis Gras World, to see where many of the floats for the parades are designed and made.  We got to see the props and floats up close — I never realized how big they were!

The decor we enjoyed at breakfast

The decor we enjoyed at breakfast

The French Market entrance

The French Market entrance

Me with a giant bust of Shakespeare

Me with a giant bust of Shakespeare

Inside the warehouse at Mardis Gras World.

Inside the warehouse at Mardis Gras World.

Our cruise left from New Orleans on Monday, which was why we were able to have a weekend there in the first place.  We checked out of our hotel and headed down to the port.  It took a little big of time (rumor had it that someone from the cruise that was offloading hid on the ship and wasn’t getting off), but we finally boarded the Carnival Triumph!

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Our cruise was a five-day cruise to Cozumel and Progreso, Yucatan.  The first stop was to Cozumel, a small island off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.  It’s a beautiful area with lovely beaches, which is why we decided to use this stop as our beach day.  We went on an excursion to an all-inclusive, private beach, which was only available for a small number of people.  It was so nice to spend a few hours laying on a beach chair, enjoying the nice weather (save for a freak 20 minute downpour during lunch), and reading (at least in my case).

Arriving in beautiful Cozumel

Arriving in beautiful Cozumel

The best way to relax

The best way to relax

The second stop on our cruise the next day was at the port of Progreso.  The interesting thing about this particular port is that it is home to the longest pier in the world — I believe someone mentioned that it’s three or four miles long.  Because of the reef and how shallow the water gets any closer to shore, they had to build that long of a pier for the cruise and cargo ships that stop in that port.

The view of shore...from the dock.  You can just barely make out the buildings.

The view of shore…from the dock. You can just barely make out the buildings.

We did another excursion here too!  This time we went on a tour to Dzibilchaltun, a small Mayan ruin village.  It’s very close to Merida (the main city near Progreso), so it was only a twenty minute bus drive (as opposed to the two hour bus drive you’d get to enjoy if you wanted to go to the famous Chichen Itza).  The other plus was that, unlike some of the other ruins, you could actually climb on the ones in Dzibilchaltun.

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One of the ruins

One of the ruins

I was a chicken and was only able to climb halfway up.

I was a chicken and was only able to climb halfway up.

The building behind us is the Temple of the Seven Dolls

The building behind us is the Temple of the Seven Dolls

After spending a couple hours at the ruins, we then got to go to a traditionally made Mayan lunch at a small restaurant/brewery not far away.  After that, we got the driving tour through Merida, which is really a beautiful city.  It’s also home to one of the oldest cathedrals in the world!

The other days on our cruise were sea days, because it takes that long to get between New Orleans and the Yucatan peninsula (largely because we had to sail down a stretch of the Mississippi River, which takes several hours).

This was our view on our two sea days -- water as far as the eye can see!

This was our view on our two sea days — water as far as the eye can see!

As always, we were sad to see our wonderful vacation end.  Hopefully we’ll get to go on some more travel adventures soon!

On Moving and a New Writing Space

Wherever have I been for the last two months (or more)?  Why have I barely gotten any writing done, not to mention have let my email inbox go out of control yet again?

My husband and I just moved into our first house!  (And then turned around and went on a week-long cruise mere days later, but that’s a story for another post.)

While I’m super psyched that we did some hardcore adulting and bought a house (yay for 30 years of debt!), here’s the thing: I hate moving.  Moving is like pulling teeth with me.  I waited until the last possible minute to start packing, and unpacking has been just as infused with procrastination.  I can find any excuse to not deal with the stack of boxes in our back bedroom.  I’m sick, I’m tired, I’m sore from dance rehearsal or working out, it’s just too overwhelming.

(Meanwhile, may I add, Alan unpacked and organized basically the entire finished basement.  He has an unfair advantage in this, though, because he spends part of each day hopped up on steroids for a chronic illness.)

Now I feel I can talk about it and share pictures, though, because things are a little less chaotic in the house, not to mention in my shiny new writing space!

One of the big selling points for the house we chose was the fact that, not only does it have an already-finished basement, but there’s an extra room down there, which means we actually have five bedroom-type spaces.  This means that Alan and I get separate offices.  This is great for two reasons.  First, I no longer have to stare at all of Alan’s piles of computer stuff.  Second, I don’t feel guilty about buying enough bookcases to line almost every wall in my office.  I finally get my library (sort of)!

And while I hate on moving to probably an unfair level, I will give it one benefit: it’s the perfect excuse to reimagine how I want my writing oasis to look.  I can create the space that I want, that will make me most comfortable as I daydream the shenanigans that my characters can get into.

Now, let me forewarn you, the space isn’t done yet.  I need to buy another full-sized bookcase, along with another small one.  But here are the in-progress pictures of my new writing space.

 

My lovely little office!

My lovely little office!

How part of my library looks right now.

How part of my library looks right now.

My writing space.

My writing space.

Hug Your Friends

I don’t know who originally said it, but every so often I’ll see this saying floating around Facebook: “Friends are the family you choose.”

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My friends and I at Columbus Zoo Wildlights 2009. Front row (L to R): Chelly, Joey, Justin. Back row (L to R): Caitlin, Nate, Emmy, Janet, Jessica, me.

Chalk it up to the fact that I didn’t really have any true friends until I was in middle school, but I really believe this saying.  My friends are the family I chose.  Many of us have been together since freshman year of high school — a few in our group knew each other long before that, even, and a few joined our circle later.  We’ve been through thick and thin.  We’ve argued, we’ve bickered, we get annoyed with each other from time to time.  But we’re always there for each other, in the end.

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Me, Caitlin, Jessica, and Janet (with Nate in the background) on some New Year’s Eve.

We went to different colleges, some moved away.  And some have been in our tight little group for a few years before drifting away, as sometimes happens in life.

But even those who I don’t see on a regular basis anymore, or don’t talk to every day, they were still part of my little chosen family.  I still cherish the moments I shared with them.  I still smile at the pictures from the adventures we had together.  I still love them.

We have an ongoing Facebook messaging group conversation, but it only gets used if we’re planning something or sharing news.  Why not text?  Because two of our number live internationally right now.

Today I sent a simple four-word message to the whole group, in the conversation that hasn’t been touched for weeks:  “I love you guys.”

It’s one of those tough moments we’re experiencing together now.  A few weeks ago, an old friend of ours who used to hang out with us often, Joey, went missing.  This was unlike him.  He disappeared without a trace.  He didn’t show up for work.  A search began.

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Joey at Columbus’s Red White & BOOM fireworks display a few summers ago.

The search ended this week, but in the worst way.  His body was found in the river that goes through downtown.  While I watched the news sites, waiting for confirmation of who it was, I hoped that it wouldn’t be Joey.  No one deserves that, and particularly not him.  We found out today it was him.

Joey was a sweet guy, always smiling.  He made us all laugh and he fit in with our particular brand of weird.  I doubt he ever had anything bad to say about anyone.  It’s been a few years since I last ran into him, a few years since he last came to one of our chaotic gatherings, but he was one of us.  He laughed with us, he goofed off with us, and he was just an overall good person — which is how I’ll always remember him.

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Justin and Joey, when we all went to see the last Harry Potter movie.

First shock, then sadness, and it’s only a fraction of what I know his family and close friends are feeling.  All I can do is let the people in our group that were still close to Joey know that I’m here for them, but even then I know it’s not enough.

That’s what friends do, though.  Try their best to help each other through the tough stuff, offer a shoulder to cry on, share those funny pictures and happy memories of times gone by.  My little chosen family is hurting today, more than we have in a long time.

And when I see them in person next, whenever that might be, I’m going to give each of them a hug.  For now, I just have to be satisfied in the fact that they know I love them — each of them — for all their weirdness and kindness.

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Joey and me at Red White & BOOM (the same year as the picture above). This photo belongs to my friend Chelsea.

Hug your friends.  Hug your family — biological or otherwise.  Let them know you love them.  You never know when it will be the last time.

Why I Write

Yesterday afternoon, after a full day of house hunting, I registered to attend the Write Stuff conference in Allentown, PA next month.  Yes, I waited until the day before the early bird pricing ended before registering.  My procrastination knows no bounds.

Like the last couple of years, the registration form asked a particular question.  Why do you write?  So I typed in a short answer and moved on, wanting to get the process done with.

Blame it on the fact that I’m currently sitting, tired, in a hospital waiting room (don’t worry, just a side effect of having a spouse with a chronic illness that requires tests to check progress), but I find myself thinking of this question again, more than 12 hours after I answered it.

It’s a question that I’ve been asked from time to time as I’ve been growing up.  Why do I write?  What is it that makes me sit down and want to put a story on the page?  Why would I choose to spend four years of college studying writing, and why would I take a part-time job doing just that?

Why do I write?

The answer that I gave on the Write Stuff registration form was just a short and simple, “Writing helps me make sense of the world around me and the human experience.”

Which is, of course, true.  I wouldn’t have given that answer if it wasn’t true.  But it’s so much more of that.

Other times, when I’ve been asked this question, I’ve said that it’s because writing keeps me sane, keeps the characters in my head from getting out of control, lets me release that overactive imagination that makes me think someone’s breaking into our apartment at four in the morning.

Also true, yes.  All of these answers are completely true.

But why I write?  If I’m going to throw out brevity and not give a one-sentence answer, that’s when it gets a little more complicated.

I write to come to terms with the events and people around me.  When something happens in my life or in the world that I can’t fully process, or that I don’t want to fully process, I write about it.  When I read something online, or hear a news story, or see something in a history book…when I see tragedy, that’s when I have to write to understand why.

It’s probably why I don’t always write “nice” things, something that baffles my parents.  I can process butterflies and rainbows.  I get humor.  What I can’t process is why bad things happen.  What I don’t get is what makes people be horrible.  Not until I get inside my characters’ heads and write about it.

This is, I believe, what has drawn me to the Jonestown story — what is it that makes a thousand people follow a crazed man to their deaths?  What kind of world lets that happen?  I can read about it until I go cross-eyed, but I can’t fully understand until I experience it through my characters, as flawed as that may be.

Sometimes I write because a particular character comes into my head and doesn’t leave me along.  That’s what happened with my dystopian trilogy, which is in process.  The main character popped into my head one day and wouldn’t shut up until I wrote.  She had a story that needed to be told, and as I watch the world around me going to hell in a handbasket, I can now understand why.

That’s what writing is for me.  Yes, I have to shut up my characters.  Yes, I have to process the big events that happen around me or to me.  But it comes down to understanding.

I write to understand.

Crystal Ball: Annual Fancy Nerdfest

For the last four years or so, I’ve been part of this fantastically nerdy group here in Ohio: hp-Ohio, which is a meetup group for adult Harry Potter fans located in and around Ohio.  And while we have many gatherings that happen on an annual basis (BAMFmas in July to celebrate Harry’s and Neville’s birthdays, a Valentine’s tea party in February, a Halloween party each October, and a New Year’s Eve lunch wherein we all wear Weasley-style sweaters), one of my favorites is the Crystal Ball.

Photo Credit: Crystal Quesnelle

 

The Crystal Ball is hp-Ohio’s Yule Ball, and it takes place in January at the lovely Landoll’s Mohican Castle in Loudonville, Ohio.  We get all dressed up, have a fancy night, and, of course, nerd it out.  We basically take over the castle for the weekend, many of us stay in the hotel rooms available there, and we have a grand old time with a bunch of other Harry Potter fans.

Landoll’s Mohican Castle

 

This year was my fifth Crystal Ball (what?!) and it was the fourth time I’ve convinced my husband to come along.  This year was also the tenth Crystal Ball that has taken place at Landoll’s Mohican Castle, so it was even more of a celebration than usual, complete with a “memory museum” that featured pictures and memorabilia from each of the past Crystal Balls.

The entrance to the “memory museum”

 

A display of various banners hp-Ohio has used throughout the history of the Crystal Ball

 

This beautiful mural was made by my friend and fellow hp-Ohio member, Alicia Wilson

 

Without a doubt, Crystal Ball is one of my favorite ways to start a new year.  There’s nothing better than spending a weekend with some great friends, nerding out and being fancy!

Photo Credit: Crystal Quesnelle

 

Sparkly-Shiny Christmas

I love Christmas.  It’s my favorite holiday, and has been for as long as I can remember.  I love the child-like wonder.  I love the Christmas trees and other decorations.  I love family traditions — and seeing extended family that we don’t get to see very often.  And I love, LOVE, the Christmas lights.

Basically, I become a child.

In fact, I love the Christmas lights so much that I’m pretty sure my husband is a little nervous to see what’s going to happen to our house (when we finally have a house) the first Christmas we’re there.

So it’s no wonder that I absolutely love going over to the Columbus Zoo to see their “Wildlights” about this time every year.  My husband and I even had our engagement photos taken at the Wildlights last year!

Last Friday, we made our annual trip to the Columbus Zoo (all of five minutes away) to see the Wildlights.  Of course, it’s been freakishly warm here the last few weeks, so it seemed like everyone else in the city had the same idea (we found out later that we picked a good night — Saturday and Sunday were so packed that it was taking people hours to travel just a few miles).

It was a beautiful night, and it was so much fun to see all the lights.  Here are just a few pictures that I took that night!

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My husband (Alan) and me

 

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And my favorite picture I took…

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What are some of your favorite things to do around the winter holiday season?  Do you have a lights display that you absolutely have to see?

A November Reflection: On National Novel Writing Month and Feeling Old

I won’t even bother starting this one saying that it’s been months since I posted, since we all know that.  So I’m just going to move on!

It’s now December.  This year has been a particularly weird one for me, likely because of the whole getting married thing, so everything’s been feeling rather, well, out of sync as far as the normal passage of time should go.  Since I got married at the tail end of the summer (August), three weeks after performing in Dublin Irish Festival, the earlier summer months were devoted 15% to Dublin Irish Festival rehearsals and 85% to frantically trying to get wedding stuff done.  After the wedding, we left for a week-long honeymoon, and got back literally a day before September started.

That’s a really long story just to say that it didn’t feel like I ever really had a summer, in the normal sense I usually do.  And when late August and September came around, and the commercials on TV were all talking about back to school sales, I was legitimately confused, because I felt like there should have been at least another six weeks before schools would start again.

So here we are in December, and it doesn’t really feel much like December to me.  Sure, our apartment is decked out in Christmas decorations, I’m listening to Christmas music, and I’m going Christmas shopping this weekend with some girlfriends.  But in my mind, it just…doesn’t feel like it should be Christmas time yet.

I think my body clock is about a month behind, all due to my crazy summer and my multitude of life changes.

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Anyway, last month was actually (no, seriously, Erin) November, which meant that it was yet another National Novel Writing Month.  This was my eleventh year doing NaNoWriMo, and ended up being my seventh year crossing the 50,000-word finish line!  Which, you know, is kind of an exciting accomplishment, not to mention because the first week of November found me in jury duty for four days (never got picked, though, so no fun stories from that).

If you have any interest at all in how the novel writing actually went — well, let’s just say it was nice to get back into a regular novel-writing groove.  The novel itself was fun for the first two-thirds of the story, and then got weird, and kind of drifted off.  The last chapter was mostly my main character rambling just so I could reach the 50,000 word goal.  Longest.  Resolution.  Ever.

Which is an important lesson — sometimes novels I write end up staying in their little drawers, for my amusement only.

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Me after my high school graduation (June 2005)

November was also the month of my — and this still feels weird to say — 10 year high school class reunion.  Yes, the picture above was taken ten years ago (plus a few months).  I kind of believe that there are a handful of events that occur in most people’s lives that just naturally make a person feel “officially” old.  Celebrating your 30th birthday, perhaps.  Experiencing a “baby” sibling graduating college and getting their first “big kid” job.  A child growing up, moving out, and getting married.

And, of course, high school reunions.

My class didn’t have a five year reunion, for good reason.  It was only five years; we were probably still a little sick of each other, and the people I wasn’t sick of I was still in touch with.

Look how much things have changed in the last ten years!

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One of my high school senior pictures

 

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My husband and I on our wedding day

Ten years since high school graduation.  Wow.  In the last ten years, I’ve learned a lot and experienced new things.  I’ve written a lot.  I’ve done things I was scared to do, like traveling alone.  I’ve graduated from college, started learning Irish dance, met the love of my life, and got married.

I’d say the last ten years have been pretty awesome.  Who knows what the next ten years will hold?

 

 

A Love Story

About three and a half years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day weekend 2012, I was in Allentown, PA for my very first writers conference.  I didn’t know anyone there prior to going, and the crowd that attended wasn’t very big on hanging out after hours, so I spent my evenings that weekend sitting alone in my hotel room.  I’d read.  I’d write.  I’d watch TV.

And I’d get on eHarmony.

I’d created an eHarmony account several months prior, finally giving up on the idea of the concept of meeting someone on my own.  At that point, while I’d talked to several guys through the site, I’d only met one of them in person, and after a few dates never heard from him again.  So it was this particular weekend that I decided to try it again, and lucky I did.  Because that weekend, while I was alone in my hotel room in an unfamiliar place, most of the time I spent on eHarmony, I spent talking to one guy in particular.

His name was Alan.

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It wasn’t very long before we decided to try meeting in person, at a Starbucks in downtown Dublin, Ohio.  And it wasn’t long after meeting for the first time that we went out on our first date.  Before long, we’d been out on several dates and decided we were officially in a relationship.

Not too terribly long after that, I knew I was in love, which was a new thing for me.  I’d only had one other serious boyfriend, and that was back in high school — and while I’d been fond of him, I had always known that I’d never been in love with him.  It was different with Alan.  I knew I was happiest when I was spending time with him, even if we were just watching a movie on the couch.  When he sent me “good morning” texts, I smiled.  I missed him when we were apart.

Eventually we started talking casually about spending the rest of our lives together, marriage, the future…all that fun stuff.  We pretty much agreed that we were both interested in marriage.  About this time, we went on our first vacation together — a Caribbean cruise in June 2014.  I’d already been dropping subtle hints about proposing, and some friends and family didn’t help this much when they kept saying that surely Alan was going to propose on the cruise.

He didn’t propose, but we had a great time together anyway.  It was the first time for both of us on a cruise, and the first time Alan had ever been out of the country, so we had adventures and laughs and it was great.

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It wasn’t until a few months later, when I was starting to get very discouraged, that Alan finally popped the question and successfully surprised me with it.  One random Sunday in October 2014, while we were both wearing pajama bottoms and old t-shirts, and after I’d had a headache most of the day and he’d been in a sour mood after grocery shopping, Alan made us dinner (not unusual, as he’s the cook in our relationship).  After eating, while we were still sipping on our wine, the conversation veered back over to marriage and the future again, something that had been happening on a regular basis by this point.  And then he asked me to marry him, I asked if he was serious (I couldn’t tell), and he pulled an engagement ring out of his pocket.

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Fast forward almost eleven months later, and at the end of August 2015, we found ourselves at the front of my church.  He was wearing a tux.  I was in a white dress and veil and tiara (because tiara).  One best man, one groomsman, one maid of honor, and three bridesmaids were standing next to us.  And in front of our family and friends, we declared our love and made vows and at the end we were pronounced husband and wife.

What’s most impressive, I think, is that I managed to not completely break down sobbing in the middle of the vows.

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We went on our honeymoon the next day to Jamaica, and spent a whole, wonderful week at an all-inclusive resort.  It was heaven just to be together, without work dragging us apart or the normal distractions of the day to day.

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We’ve been home now for a little over a week.  And we’ve been married for a little over two weeks.  There are no words to fully describe how happy I am (or how much I teared up again writing all of this).  We’re on to new adventures together — Alan is starting to talk at tech conferences, and I’m in the process of starting my writing career for real.  Soon, we hope to be house hunting.

But I for sure will never forget the St. Patrick’s Day of 2012, when I started talking to this guy on eHarmony…our first cruise together in 2014 where everyone was convinced he was going to propose…the night he really did pop the question in October 2014…or the beautiful, sunny August 22, 2015, when we got married.

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(If you’d like to read Alan’s post about all this he did on his website, that can be found here.  It made me tear up, but that’s also largely because he doesn’t tend to get sappy about us online, so it was a lovely surprise.)

Dublin Irish Festival 2015

Yes, this is a couple of weeks late — but better late than never, right?

This year was my sixth year dancing at the Dublin Irish Festival in Dublin, Ohio.  I dance with Columbus Celtic Dancers, the adult branch of the Dublin Richens/Timm Academy of Irish Dance.

I kind of can’t believe this was my sixth year dancing at the festival, and competing in the adult dance competition of the Columbus Feis.  Oh, the adventures I’ve had over the last many years.  I didn’t take as many pictures this year as I usually do (probably because by this point all the pictures are starting to look mostly them same year-to-year), and somehow my camera screwed up and I didn’t get a copy of the full group picture of my dance group to share with you, but here’s a look at the wonderful people I get to dance with every year!

 

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Here’s the four of us who competed in the Columbus Feis, along with our wonderful dance teacher, Allanda (in the middle of the group).

 

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This picture has become something of a running tradition between my friend, Shana, and me. We always have to be ridiculous backstage…for no other reason than we can.

 

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And here’s a final picture of a few of us dancers backstage before we performed during Dublin Irish Festival weekend!