Every day is a good day to express affirmation.

After brushing my teeth and grabbing my mouthguard, I step into the bedroom. Maya sits cross-legged, writing. With the brown leather book propped on her lap, she scribbles words of affirmation.

Maya’s and my daily affirmations for one another

Day 11: I admire how she knows what she wants in life. C3* knows exactly who she is and what she wants.

Day 19: On Tuesday, I received an e-mail from UPS. I was quite puzzled. It stated that my package is on the way. I didn’t order anything though. The next day, I trubiz got the package after work! It was from C3. It was a really nice feeling getting something unexpectedly from my love.

Day 23: You have no idea how I felt when I first saw C3 when she walked through the door. After not seeing her for a week, she looks more handsome than ever.

Slipping under the covers, I wait as Maya finishes up. Each night, the hour before bed, I think about this life with her. There are numerous pleasures and freedoms I experience, being in this relationship. Through shared and exchanged journaling, I make a conscious effort to communicate those privileges. I find that affirming one another reduces my taking this relationship for granted. Grinning broadly, Maya places the journal on my chest, waiting for me to read. She watches me carefully while I read what she has written. Soaking in my reaction — often times feeling a milky warm movement in my chest — I take my turn to write.

Day 4: As we finished up dinner, Maya did all the cleaning while I continued to spend time with our guests. I appreciate Maya’s way of hosting and how she doesn’t mind if I’m focused on the entertaining.

Day 15: She hid 6 notes throughout my overnight bag, stocked it with sweets, and included clothes I needed for the surprise bachelorette weekend. Maya contributed to the planning and scheming for this trip with my siblings which had me over the moon. I absolutely cannot wait to marry the life out of this woman.

Day 21: Hours spent at Spa World, laying in the red clay ball pit in our orange robes, resting our eyes, locking one another’s pinkies…it often feels like I’m in a world where its just us.

The act of affirming your loved one(s) reduces potential for future regret. Affirming another individual is a reminder of how precious our days are. They are numbered. Expressing affirmation to others may not be your thing. But hey, this is not about you. This is about them. Do this for them. The only element you need is to be genuine. Taking the time to pause, reflect, and comment on how your loved one enriches the lives of others (and you) is a priceless form of expression that all of us needs.

Our Affirmation Journal

*C3 is my “sign name” in the Deaf community and it is what I prefer to be called.

Christmas Week in the Republica Dominicana

The night Maya and I, and seven others in my family, arrived to Republica Dominicana, my brother Seppi asked for our attention. As he stood behind two rocking chairs on the porch, he lifted his hands. Now, before I continue, let me tell you one thing about Seppi. He lives for humor. Even on the grimmest of topics, Seppi thinks quick on his feet and finds a way to lighten the mood. With this ability, Seppi humorously signed a modified phrase known to have been said by Brett Kavanaugh.

I like beer. You like beer? Girls like beer. Boys like beer. Yes, we drank beer. I still like beer. We drink beer.

Another thing to know about Seppi is that he has not acquired the ability to communicate in sign language until this fall. While Seppi was signing, Maya and I were taken by such sweet surprise. Seppi continued.

I have been taking an American Sign Language beginners course at WPSD (Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf).

By then, rosy-cheeked, I was struck in a trance of… relief. I didn’t pay attention to his signing anymore because I was overwhelmed with emotion. My brother, who was my closest companion growing up, was communicating in a language that has become central to my life as a Deaf individual. Better yet, he was signing in a language that is native to my fiance. Having once known just a few words in sign language, Seppi is now able to communicate on his own with Maya, meeting her where she is at by using her language.

With the way Seppi kicked off our international vacation, I definitely couldn’t wait for the week together to commence.

Our vacation was no resort, blue-beach, Punta Cana-y like. We were luckier than that. My brother-in-law, Tony, is from Republica Dominicana. After years of dreaming, Tony’s wish became true. The Grugan entourage along with two spouses traveled to his family’s batey. A batey is an area of clustered residential buildings on a plantation. For one week, Tony’s father’s family hosted us. If you want to know what generosity really means then you should meet Papito’s family. They gave up their beds. They shared their only bathroom. They ate in the kitchen so we could sit around the dinner table. They sat on their beds or in the streets so we could have the rocking chairs on the porch. They cooked all meals from morning, noon, to even sometimes a 9pm dinner. They don’t have much but they do with what they have. And even when they have even less than what they normally have, they gave that up so we could be with them. I’ll let some photos show the essence of this vacation.

Highlight from our week’s stay: Tony was able to bring his mother to the embassy in the Republica Dominicana to request for a passport. This passport would allow for Tony’s mother to travel more freely between Haiti (where she currently lives) and the Republica Dominicana (where family/resources/access is more readily available). She was approved!

Maria & Tony

The 5 Senses of Meeting Maya

This was a tough one. I attempted writing my version to Maya’s and my love story specifically for our wedding website. A few people provided me with similar feedback. “This doesn’t sound like you, Cecilia. You’re a romantic. Don’t write facts. Write from your heart.”

They were right. I tried and tried again. I marinated my thoughts. Delved into my feelings. Draft after draft. It was on Thanksgiving Day that I composed the following version, to be featured on our wedding website.

It was a June wedding weekend in 2016 hosted in the Adirondacks in New York when my five senses jolted to life.

While lounging on the dock protruding the shoreline of the lake, I caught sight of a figure prancing down the hill in a floral, summer dress. With a relaxed grin on her face, her earthy, spirited demeanor struck me as I realized she was coming toward me. With an immediate sense of longing, I wanted our worlds to collide.

As confident as a captain steers its boat’s course, she stuck out her hand, the grin growing more broadly. The olive skin, pointed slender fingers with dust-free nails, enveloped mine for the first time. Even before knowing her name, I was brought home. A place I wish to remain.

As though we were old friends, tried and true, we talked. We shared stories. We prattled about our ideologies. With neither of us wearing our medical devices, we slipped into the comfortable physical noises of our hands. Words danced off our fingers, filling our connection with blazes of colors, introducing each other’s ways of being.

Amidst our exchange, when the hors d’oeuvres passed through the throng of guests, she guided my attention to the delicacies. She wanted the delights of catered bites to please my tongue’s palette. Through such a gesture, I sensed her to be one who thinks of others and wishes for all to enjoy present blessings.

Before we returned to our respective residencies after the wedding weekend, she placed either arm around my torso, smoothing her hands flat across either shoulder blade. It was then that I stamped her scent into my memory. Not knowing if there would be another chance to see her again, I savored the embrace.

It was that fateful summer when my life became entwined with the senses of my future wife.

April 13, 2019

The Perks of Traveling with your Partner(s) and Friend(s): New Mexico

While I drove us back down south to Ruidoso, David copy-interpreted from the passenger seat what I was signing. He did this so Maya could see what I was signing since she was sitting in the back. At one point, I giggled. David “interpreted” my giggle by mimicking my giggle. That made me giggle again with which he also mimicked with added facial animation. He meant to provide full accessibility for Maya but then the giggles became contagious, having developed into laughing fits. Before we knew it, David and I were in an uproar of hysteria. Our stomach muscles clenched. Tears trickled down our flushed faces. During this whole ordeal, Maya sat in the back, looking at us with mixed looks that read as “Y’all are adorable” but “also…uh, pretty nuts”.

David is one of my best friends. Maya is my fiancé (just incase you didn’t already know. Hello new readers!). This particular vacation posed as an opportunity to weave together the connection David and I have long built between us since college and the relationship Maya and I have developed the last few years. We met up in El Paso, Texas to kick-off our four-day, activity-packed road trip. After picking up our free rental car upgrade to a white 2019 Nissan Rogue Sport, we traveled north to Alamogordo, New Mexico, swinging our bare feet out of the car, eager to dip them into the White Sands National Monument‘s sand dunes. As we sledded down the steeper dunes at the edge of the park, it dawned on me how healthy it felt to be traveling with one of my best friends and fiancé.

After a night of a classic chips/guac/margs combo and a good night’s rest in a Tiny Home tucked in the mountains just outside of Ruidoso, we trekked further north to Albuquerque to check into our glamping site. One morning we woke up at 3:30 to witness the thrilling morning glow show of the International Hot Air Balloon Feista. We nearly froze our “tootsies” off. However, I’ll have to vouch for the others and say it was definitely worth it! After braving the freezing temperatures and eruption of hundreds of hot air balloons ascending into the blues, we feasted on an afternoon of wine hopping. Our one-of-a-kind stay in Albuquerque taught me that traveling together is unparalleled to anything a bond can develop on a daily basis. It also soothed me whenever I witnessed some of the two most important people in my life relishing in one another’s company independent of me.

Our road trip continued north with a midday hike at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument before we arrived to Santa Fe for an afternoon. In Santa Fe, we spent a few hours at Meow Wolf, which was just – to put it very simply – idiosyncratic and marveling. This is the best way I can put it: Meow Wolf is an immersive, stimulating experience where you won’t only be found in a Victorian mansion filled with clues but in an alternate world of interactivity and wonderment, distracting you from solving a mystery…which was basically the whole point. When we left, we turned back southward to return to Ruidoso for one more night before returning home.

The last four-ish days, Maya and I rarely exchanged romantic affection. We seemed to have mutually agreed to focus on the dynamics friendship brings while road tripping with David. Because of this, I felt our fundamental foundation enhance with the understanding and enjoyment of one another outside our romantic lens. Having David present helped Maya and I emulate positive habits shared between two good friends.

We became three amigos, cruising along the desert terrain, hopping from city to city, living up to our humanity as it is.

Even the light is dancing: Block Island

By the grace of my future in-laws, Block Island has become an important part of my life. It is not just some island to hang about while on vacation. Whenever I am here, I am present. I usually have a hard time being that way. Oftentimes, I’m thinking about everything but the very moment in front of me. That dilemma easily disappears when I’m on Block Island. I can’t help but notice the renewal of my senses when I inhale the island’s air. When I’m in the city, I peer up at the sky multiple times a day, not noticing it even once. Here, I absorb all the sounds I hear rather than tuning them out. I devour the taste in my current bite, rather than thinking about when I’ll fit in the next one. I’m telling you, there’s something particularly special that goes on around here on the island.

Even the light seems to be different. When the sun radiates, birthing a new day, it somehow feels lighter as though it wanted to be here. Rather than serving its duty, the light is dancing. It illuminates its power across the “pork-shaped” land, kissing our skin with shades of pinks and reds. The light says, “I am here”. So are we.

This year, Maya and I decided to spend some time in Newport, Rhode Island before heading out to Point Judith to board the traditional ferry. We wanted to check out the place, having heard about the worldly elegance of the Gilded Age mansions. We rose at the crack of dawn at our beachy Airbnb to take a stroll down to a shipyard where we enjoyed the Catch of the Day (salmon) at Belle’s cafe. From there, we drove along the Ocean Scenic Drive until we rolled around to a cliffside walkway that stretches for about 3.5 miles. After marveling at the neighboring mansions along the walkway, we slurped down a bowl of world-famous clam chowder at The Black Pearl. Afterwards we headed over to Newport Vineyards. When it comes to Maya, there’s always a glass of wine involved. We boarded the ferry and headed for Block Island.

Once we got off the boat, Maya’s father greeted us. He took us down to the shore of a private beach. We surveyed which boulders he’d fish from that night. As we wandered across the rocky beach, Maya’s father flipped rocks until he revealed tiny creatures scurrying sideways, seeking alternative hideouts. Easy to catch, the thumb-sized crabs scuttled right into Isaac’s hands. He handed them to us to observe between our fingers. This is to say, much of our time spent on the island consists of roaming its edges where the land and water meet.

During our visit, we inadvertently followed a peculiar meal schedule. It often went like this. 10am, breakfast. 4pm, lunch. 10pm, dinner. This all may have been because we’d get caught up in the moment crabbing, fishing, and clamming during usual mealtimes. If you ask me, I wouldn’t change the way it was. There was no routine. I quite liked it. Whenever Maya and I are here, we have the opulence of three meals a day assembled by Maya’s parents’ soulful home cooking. When I consume their meals, I feel as though each flavor were sewed together to make the harmonious quilt of a meal.

In between meals, we set camp to bask in the sun or read a story. Learned how to cast a fishing rod properly, hoping for a dinner’s catch. Rode the waves and collected pebbles to build layered pyramids upon driftwood. Rummaged through arbors of shrubbery to reach Southwest Point. Dug into the inky sand until we discovered appropriately sized clams. Teetered on top of the algae-covered chute of rocks protruding the shore of Pebbly Beach. Chased the slivers of commotion caused by a school of tuna fish traveling through the channel. Clambered along the cliffside to find a surfer’s waves by Black Rock. Salivated the drips and swirls of award-winning ice cream Sundaes. And hiked in between waves of Cheeto shaped blooms from the Goldenrods.

To put this all simply, every time Maya and I come to Block Island, we are here. We are here for whatever the ocean brews. A calm sunny day where the birds spread their wings, spotting the ripples with their shadows. Or an impending storm that causes the thrashing waves to emerge and submerge back into the Atlantic. In whichever form or cause, we savor the sprinkle of frigid water suds as they collide with the fringes of the island.

Here, we are joyful. We are liberated from all else going on in our lives.