Turning 22; Reflecting on 21

July 12th. I’m 22 now. Another spin around the sun complete. And what a journey this last one has been.

This year we celebrated by hiking to Colombier beach, eating lots of cake, and going out for Thai food for dinner. The day was calm and family oriented, which honestly felt like all I needed.

Where did 21 start? In a suuuper exciting location… LAS VEGAS!!!! While traveling the West Coast of the US at the time, my travel crew and I organised it so that we could be in Vegas for the night of my birthday and it was spectacular! The following days we drove to and through national parks and “must-sees” on the West Coast like LA, Vegas, numerous national parks: the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, Sequoia National Park. I even saw a bear-cub!

After the West Coast adventure, as I would still be in the US for another two weeks, I visited New York and one of my bestest friends in the universe. I was even so lucky two beautiful souls I met in Paris were in New York as well, along with another childhood friend. The day had started with getting a new tattoo in Brooklyn, After which we did some sightseeing around the city. By night time two worlds came together as my Paris friends and my Rome friends had all joined me to go out in what is for sure one of the greatest cities I have ever been too. We went dancing and stayed out long enough to watch the sunrise and have breakfast in a typical American diner. This was for sure one of the best nights out of my life.

Following my American adventure, I flew to St. Barths, which was meant to be my next vacation destination where I had planned to figure out what was next while spending time with my mom. But a couple weeks before leaving the US and heading to my mom, she had called and asked if I wanted to work with her. I said yes on the spot, knowing we’d figure out the details once we were in the same location.

So, two weeks after arriving in St. Barths I had changed my residency and had started working for my mom. Which has been one of the greatest spontaneous decisions in my life so far. I now had a job, was going to be living on a tropical Island, and got to spend quality time with my mom. This also meant that I had to postpone my initial flight back to the Netherlands. I’d be in St. Barths until further notice.

The next five months were mostly spent on the island, with the exception of late September when I had the opportunity to visit the US again for another month. Most of my time was spend in Virginia with an occasional trip to North Carolina and Shenandoah. Experiencing the East Coast during the fall was magical. All the trees were coloured in reds, greens, yellows, and oranges, driving along the highway and through national parks created an immense visual enjoyment. But the Fall didn’t just bring beauty and fun, it also brought sadness and somber news. My father had cancer again. This time in his liver, where he had seven different tumors. The prognosis was either 2.5 years living life alongside the cruelties of chemotherapy, or about 9 months of a life filled with quality. He chose the latter.

Christmas time was very special. My mom came back from Europe at the end of November, followed by my siblings a week later, whom I hadn’t seen since my graduation in Paris in May. Another 10 days later I got to see my dad. Finally. I hadn’t seen him in seven months, three of which included knowing the negative news about his health. As he got off the boat and I got to hold him, I just bursted into tears, barely able to hold myself up. It was starting to sink in that this man I loved oh so very much would soon be gone off the earth.

The next 12 days that we were on St. Barths with the five of us, we cherished every day and enjoyed every moment of actively living life together. We celebrated Christmas early and shared our life plans, ideas and things we want to do and create for ourselves in the upcoming future. The idea behind this, as each of us shared our presentation or drawing, was to have our dad know what we wanted to do, who we wanted to be. He wouldn’t be there to see it all. At least not in-person, and this way it still feels like he’s here, knowing how I’m shaping my life.

After Christmas my dad left to go back to The Netherlands, spending the rest of the Holidays with Marjolein and friends, while we enjoyed the end of the year in St. Barths. On the very last day of the year, even though it was poor timing, I got two new tattoos, my Camino shell with the arrow and my Sun&Moon tattoo. Every day when I see them I feel joy. A gift from me to me.

Following my appointment, we made a tasty family dinner, followed by dancing and counting down at Nikki Beach at their New Years Party. Walking distance from our home and free entry due to an acquaintance, we danced along as Kygo played a live DJ-set, we inched closer and closer to the stage, where Christiaan even got us into the VIP section for a good 10 minutes. We danced and drank champagne, celebrating a happy start to a happy new year. It felt like we were dancing right into a fresh start, even though a fresh start can be made any day, no matter the date.

The new year started off incredibly exciting, as January 14th I headed to The Netherlands to go on holiday with my dad. Our father-daughter trip, which we had somehow postponed over and over again throughout the past four years, was finally organised and really happening. We were going to Egypt for the next 9 days, visiting Cairo, Luxor, and Hurghada. You can read about the adventure on my other blogpost: Egyptian Adventure.

After traveling to the Netherlands and Egypt in early January, I headed back to St. Barth where I spend some time with my siblings as they passed through from San Francisco, via St. Barth, back to Europe, as well as spending some time alone. Then late February my mom, together with my 81-year-old grandmother came to St Barth. My grandma stayed three weeks, during which we showed her the island and its treasures. We spend time together and spend time alone but in each other’s presence. She said she’d come back later this year or next year, having discovered a bit of the love we feel towards this special place.

Soon after my grandmother left, my brother, somewhat unexpectedly, came to St. Barth, three days before I left to the US. It was early March now and while the Pandemic was well underway in East-Asia and Europe, the Caribbean and the US still seemed largely unaffected and traveling still seemed safe. Additionally, I wanted to see my boyfriend/best friend. Not having seen one another for a couple of months, I had missed him lots.

Once in the US, the Pandemic spread worldwide. Initially I decided to postpone my flight in order to avoid traveling, thinking the Pandemic would only last a little while. But when my flights kept getting cancelled and cancelled, I decided I had to find a way to make it to Europe to be with my family and most importantly to be with my dad.

During this time, which all felt super hectic and busy and wild, I somehow managed to focus somewhat on myself and my projects. I found time to really brainstorm my book topics, work on those different ideas, continue writing my blog and finally buying a domain so that it’s officially become leonacaanen.com, which, besides just sounding cool, also gives me a bigger urge to write on my blog, even on days when I don’t feel inspired to do so.

After traveling from the US to the Netherlands and splitting my time between work, personal projects and family, I felt things inside of me shift. I felt confused and uncertain on what was happening and how my life was shifting. Just not necessarily in a negative way, but more so in a way that I felt like I was growing. And sometimes growth is uncomfortable. What did comfort me during these strange times, besides my mom (who is always comforting and loving) were my siblings. The four of us are now closer than ever before. And while a lot of time we spend together was initially fuelled by what was happening with my dad (read Leaving Earth), we had many conversations and moments without him too, where we’d stay up late and talk about all things life-related. Love, friends, family, work, personal learning opportunities, our past and our futures. But during all of it we enjoyed the present, being together.

Then, end of June (read Life Continues), I headed back to St. Barth, where the current plan is to stay here for a long while, possibly until February. Whether I will travel somewhere in the mean time currently feels out of my control – a pandemic doesn’t really scream “tourist travel” to me. Additionally, I think there is much for me to learn and enjoy by staying in the same place for a while, re-focusing on Leona and on what I want to create for myself, around myself, and also to really be in the here and now. There is also lots of work to do, and I’m not just talking about blogging and writing a novel, or working on myself! For my work-work there is plenty to do, after my recent promotion and now having a year of experience, I feel excited to come to work and learn new things and grow the skills I already have.

I’m excited for what 22 will bring. And maybe, for the first time, it feels calm, like I’m ready for whatever will happen because I feel more sure of myself, both internally and externally. And in the places and parts of me where I don’t feel sure, I know I’m working on them, making the home within myself a little homier each day.

If you’re curious about what this next phase in life will bring me (just like I am curious about what will happen in life) feel free to subscribe to my blog! I post at least once a month, but I try to write more, even when sometimes inspiration is low.

Big hugs and I hope that you, dear reader, are doing good and leave here with a smile!

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