2019: A Year in Review

Ya girl here with an annual update of all things ME! because it’s okay to channel TSwift on a semi-regular basis. After all, they say you need to love yourself before you can truly love others and that was the very-much-intentional theme for my 2019. (#unintentionalrhyme) While I didn’t fully accomplish the “love yo’ self” goal, I definitely chipped away at it and found out that my overall word for the last year of the teens and to close out the decade was INDEPENDENCE. Cue independent related songs, plz. I should have made a playlist.

Before I continue, I do have to say that 2019 really was hella good to me so this post might end up appearing like a cheese-fest but honestly, I’m okay with that because we’re supposed to celebrate each others wins even though most people forget to do that. If you’re not into that, this is the point where you roll your eyes and exit. Boy, bye.

I’ve rarely been one to focus on the bad, the crummy, and the ugly but I have had a couple of not-so-hot years, too. This post is by no means a gloat-fest because I know others may have had a year of misfortune or some really really tough moments. Rather, this is an opportunity for me to share with you that you CAN overcome whatever hand you were dealt, even the most unwelcome ones. While I touch on it briefly, what I don’t share in this post is how many times I’ve been disappointed in those closest to me this year and how often I’ve let people down or how lonely it gets when everyone you know is celebrating their love while you are three blankets deep, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in, watching another episode of Outlander on Netflix. #mood

Life is sometimes a bummer. But it’s also really great if you allow the great in.

With that being said and because I’m supes cliché, here are NINETEEN significant moments from my 2019. Note, I did not say my “top 19” for a reason. While most of these are positives, I did have a few bumps and they did define my year overall. *In chronological order because it was too hard to weigh the importance.*

  1. Knee Probs: I had serious FML vibes at the start of the year. At the top of resolution season 2019, the slick ice outside took me out more than once, finally landing me on the ground with a torn ACL and meniscus. I’m counting my blessings this year each time I make it across the ice without slipping.
  2. Art Therapy: I’ve always had a knack for all the things art but this year was the cherry on top after abandoning my creative spirit for so many years. I took an 8-week pottery class, found a new appreciation via mural works, quilled N’ chilled, and make alcohol ink coasters, to name just a few. I even busted out of my insecurity bubble and tried pole dancing and sound bath meditation. All the kinds of arts FTW.
  3. Arizona! I checked off another state with my mom during our yearly trip to somewhere new and set eyes on one of the seven natural wonders of the world; the Grand Canyon! Read about our trip here.
  4. Rediscovered Faith: At a time in my life that I felt unbearably lost, I found myself waking up early and driving to a church near me. I had no intention of doing this, it just happened and it’s changed my life in so many ways. In 2020, I hope to share my faith story but I haven’t had the courage to do so quite yet. In finding my way this last year, I was welcomed with love and open arms. I attended a small group class, volunteered regularly, joined a grow group, and met truly wonderful followers in Christ both in and outside of the church I attend. I don’t know when I’ll put my Faith Story into words but when I do, it’ll live here.
  5. Concerts! I added Taking Back Sunday, Robert DeLong, LovelyTheBand, Flora Cash, Post Malone, Swae Lee, and Tyla Yaweh to my ever-growing list of “have seen” artists! Posty was the first concert that I attended completely alone. #yearoffirsts
  6. North Shore! OMG, you guys. While this might have seemed minuscule to some, this first regional solo trip was life-changing for me and set into motion something big later in the year. I was really struggling with some things during this time and very spur of the moment changed my plans from camping with my aunts family for a week to embarking on a self-reflection journey for a few days in solitude. I chronicled it via insta and then shared it here.
  7. Celebrated Love! My brother got engaged this year! I felt so honored that he asked me to capture this special moment and even more honored to be asked to be their Maid of Honor. An old friend from my daycare days also shared news of her engagement last spring and I can’t wait to celebrate with them this fall! My cousin is expecting her first little bundle of cuteness and my aunt moved her whole life to another city and is loving it! My youngest brother continues to make me a proud big sister as he continues to grow into the best father Emma could ever hope for. There was so much love this year, so much that I can’t even remember it all.
  8. That Camp Life! I attended two big Unglued events this year; a sleepover adult SUMMER CAMP (say what!) and day-long Fall Retreat! Both all by my lonesome BUT between the two, I met some really cool, kickass peeps. I built myself a blanket ladder, learned how to play the uke, got crafty AF, and found a beer I was actually into. I also may or may not have even dressed up and danced all my worries away in a barn wearing a bright blue wig looking like something magical.
  9. The People! In 2019, not only did I meet more people from more walks of life than ever before but I formed some really cool friendships with people that I only “kinda knew” in years past. Going to church turned into meeting so many wonderful people that are now pillars of strength and mentors in my life. Co-workers turned into important people that I spend time with outside of the regular 8-5. I went on dates; I went on some really bad dates and some really funny ones, too. I reconnected with old friends and best friends from another life. I met and visited with complete strangers in Arizona and Grand Marais and [spoiler] Iceland! 2019 had so many cool people, yo.
  10. Self Care: Ya girl treated herself in 2019. Facials and a regular at-home mask sesh, took myself to church, practiced app-guided meditation like a BOSS, took vitamins on a semi-reg basis, started getting my nails did. (Insert cute high-five girl emoji here.)
  11. State Fair + Apples: Because who doesn’t like either of those? I love everything State Fair and while my brother and his boo aren’t fans like I am (Crowds, heat, long lines, the smell of manure.. What’s not to love?), they still indulged me and agreed to make a weekend of it. We stopped at a neat little orchard that too and took a wagon ride through the woods like one does.
  12. Tattoo: It finally happened. After 11 years of indecisiveness, I finally did it.
  13. Turned 30! I have been flopping between wondering what happened to my 20’s and being so excited for this next decade. Currently: So excited. Also, I wrote something cool about turning 30. Check it out here.
  14. Got a New Job! Same company, new position. I learned a lot this year in the power of advocating for yourself and sticking to your guns; for believing that I was capable of great change in a company that I’m passionate about being a part of its future self. Plus, I finally got to fly in the company plane this year. So that was totes cool.
  15. Iceland! I really am at a loss for words. Trying to describe something so transformative to my life is difficult in the best ways. To the point even, that I owe myself three days worth of unbelievable moments left to transcribe. (I should get on that.) This was my first experience with group travel, my first time in Iceland, and my first time traveling alone abroad. I literally cannot wait until my next adventure! The days that I have detailed can be found here. The others will be up as soon as I stop procrastinating. 🙂
  16. Kittens: Bodhi is the best love bug snuggle bear any girl could wish for and we celebrated Agnes’ “got ya” day in December. I can’t imagine a life without cats in it. And that is a very objective, unbiased statement.
  17. Everything Emma: Need I say more? I could go on for days but I’ll save most of it for the book I’m sure I’ll write about her one day. Emma has a heart so big it makes my own nearly burst. She is such a goofball and so bright. I know everyone says it about the little’s in their lives but she really is going to change the world. I’d bet on it.
  18. Prayed Hard: A year of greats isn’t without sadness and anxiety. On the health front, a friend found himself in the hospital, both of my grandma’s are really feeling their age this year; I spent New Year’s Eve with my aunt and ungle along side my grandma pre and post-surgery for a broken arm among other things. My former boss and now co-worker has a son that suffered serious trauma recently; a young boy in our community died. All of this in 2019. Those are just the ingredients in my 2019 prayer cake. It’s also filled to the brim with so many blessing from those in my life that I care about and love.
  19. Self-Worth: This is tough one but one that I try to make an effort to improve upon every day that I can. It’s hard to grasp what self-worth should be or how to truly obtain it. To me, it’s a thing you see in movies like a great romance or a wizarding world of broomsticks and spells; it’s just a fairy-tale, to love yourself. I’ve very slowly, like snail-pace slowly, been working on my “you’re worth it” mantra and really evaluating the things that make me worth the friendship or the early morning coffee date or the relationship or the pamper yo’ self night or the ‘buy that purse because it looks cute’ splurge. I’ll get there, because I’m worth it. 😉

Okay, there you have it. The nineteen most impactful “somethings” from my 2019. I have a lot of really great things planned for this next year and for the first time in my LIFE, I followed through on nearly all of my goals this last year. I surprised myself more than once, did more than I had ever expected to, and grew in ways that I didn’t know I was capable of.

If I can give any advice for anyone reading this and questioning their 2020, my mom has always reminded me of this: Let go and let God.

Day 7: Home Sweet Home.

I landed in Fargo around 10:30 a.m. today and a friend from work picked me up. We grabbed lunch and then I finally made it home around 1:30 this afternoon. It’s been a productive day, too. I have successfully avoided jet lag upon my return home as planned. My bags are unpacked, my clothes are in the dryer, and my Christmas tree is up and fully decorated!

Both Agnes and Bodhi are glued to either side of me as I type this and have been transferring my journal entries to a blog format. I’m going to call it a night and enjoy their company; I love that they are the family I can come home to. As I type this, I have one last post to fully put together and a couple days left to type out from my journal, then this adventure will officially be a wrap!

I’ll elaborate more on my “What I Learned” post that I typically do at the end of each trip but for those reading now, thank you for all of the comments, texts, and snaps spreading words of encouragement and love as I’ve embarked on this international solo adventure. It’s been a whirlwind of unbelievable moments and the cheering from afar means more to me than you’ll ever know. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many good people in this world.

Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone!

Day 6: Eég mun sakna þín svo mikið.

The title of this post translates to “I will miss you so much” thank you and brought to you by Google Translate.

Today I leave Iceland and I can already see the teardrops on my guitar. Or ukulele, I should say.  We got back very late from hunting for the dancing lights in the sky. I have no idea the time but I would guess 1:30 a.m. (or so). I had intended on waking up at a semi-decent time to at least get breakfast but I missed my alarm completely and woke up around 9:45 a.m. It was too late to get dressed and grab breakfast so I decided to just relax and enjoy the last moments of quiet in Iceland.

I stayed in bed until around 10:30 a.m., took my last long hot Icelandic shower. Water is their number one resource here and they have more than enough to go around so I took full advantage of it. I packed my bags after getting ready for the day and watched out the window for a little while. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it but my view is of the Atlantic Ocean and Mount Esja, a volcanic mountain range just north of the city. Watching out the window from my hotel was so peaceful and the perfect way to soak in and reflect on this adventure.

I brought my things down to the lobby around noon to check out and visit with my fellow travelers one last time before we all got on the bus to head out. For the third or fourth time this week, I could feel my eyes filling with happy tears once again. I didn’t expect to meet people on this trip; it hadn’t even occurred to me that I would. Hugging everyone goodbye at the airport was bittersweet. I was sad to be saying goodbye, not knowing if I’d see anyone ever again but full of glee to have met so many like-minded people.

In the airport, I filled up my water bottle one last time with the precious and absolutely delicious Icelandic water. I may need to ship some to my home, I’m not even kidding. I don’t care how Real Housewives that makes me sound, you have to taste it to understand.

On the six and a half hour plane ride home, I forced myself to stay awake so I could beat jet lag. Time will tell if I succeeded. I started watching Outlander after being encouraged to watch it for some time by a friend of my moms. Ya girl is on episode 6 and I have a feeling it will overtake my entire weekend back home.

I can’t believe I’m almost already home.

Oh! I flew over Greenland! Unless or until I visit Iceland again, I don’t know that I’ll ever see Greenland in my life so I had to snap some photos. Stunning and completely untouched!

Night 5: The Glorious Aurora Borealis.

There are no words to describe the incredible nighttime beauty that Iceland embodies when the dancing lights in the sky appear. One thing I found fascinating and never really realized before is that what we see with the human eye is lighter and more dull than what a camera can capture. I don’t know the science behind it but that’s the way it is.

That’s not to say that witnessing the Northern Lights in Iceland’s night sky wasn’t worth seeing; it was. After falling short the evening before on the Atlantic Ocean aboard an Elding Whale Watching boat, our entire group was eager for the weather to cooperate with us. Of all the bucket list items I’ve ever written down, seeing the Aurora’s in a Scandinavian country was one of my top 5 and it happened. IT HAPPENED! The aurora forecast was strong at a 4 and the clouds stayed at bay which made the evening a perfect one for viewing.

And with that, I’ll leave you with the visuals of that evening. I wish I could transport every person that sees this back to those moments with me. We were the only group in a man-made Icelandic forest about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik (I’m guessing on the distance). The driver, Igor, and our tour guide, G, were perfect hosts to their country sharing this event with us.

To read more about the Northern Light’s in Iceland, check out this article by Travel & Leisure. Or to learn more about the Aurora’s in general, Wikipedia is always my go-to starting point.

Day 4: All the colors and such extremes.

Today was a perfect leisurely day all around. We were supposed to head to the South Coast today but due to the weather, our guide opted to swap days 4 and 5. I think this was a perfect decision because yesterday was jam packed and tomorrow will be too. A less physical day is a good break between leg day and.. leg day, haha!

The morning was my oyster. We headed to the Blue Lagoon today (which I’ll get to) but weren’t slated to leave until around noon. With that, I met up with four of the gals I’ve met on this trip for breakfast. Valerie, the timely solo chick she is, arrived first and I second. Sylvia, Sharon, and Theresa joined us shortly after. The breakfast at this hotel, Haust, is on point! A full breakfast buffet that is longer than my apartment is wide welcomed our hungry American stomachs each morning.

We all ate more than we probably normally would on a Tuesday morning but meh, we’re on vacation and we bouje. Once we were finished, we decided to roam around downtown Reykjavik for a couple of hours. It was still dark, have I mentioned how dark it is here? The sun doesn’t fully rise until after 10:00 a.m. and nothing was open quite yet. The only place we happened upon that was open before 10:00 was a quaint little bookstore with a store cat named Lucy. We wandered in there a bit and then continued on our way past a bizarre penis museum (ask me about it, and I’ll indulge you) and along the narrow streets decorated in full holiday attire. I felt like I was in a storybook.

We found what we dubbed the Hipster District. Turning the corner, all the buildings were fashioned as works of art. From a black and white house that looked like a Sharpie sketch come to life to a pride-inspired dragon pathway. I felt like I’d been transported into the minds of Salvador Dali and Lewis Carroll. I could have spent the entire day walking up and down each street but we eventually needed to continue on our way. Nearing our hotel on the way back, we captured the amazing views of the mountain in the distance from the hilltop streets we were on between the tall apartment buildings. Could you imagine waking up to that each morning? What a treat.

Bláa Lónið aka The Blue Lagoon was next up and man did it deliver. No article or photo I’d ever seen of the Blue Lagoon does this place justice. Seeing the bright blue ribbons of silica filled water and steam run through a lava field is otherworldly. As soon as we started on the pathway towards the entrance of the building to this geothermal spa, before we even entered, I immediately felt a sense of calm. I couldn’t believe I was there. We were welcomed by beautiful white birds just wandering around minding their own and got a glimpse of the water up close before we hit the doors. (I don’t know my birds so forgive me but I just want to refer to these dudes as swans. If they are swans, whoa.)

Once inside, we were given sweet wristbands in case we wanted to buy anything; we didn’t have to carry money with us. Checking out with the wristband seemed supes high tech and just furthered my level of impression. There are two ways to enter TBL; the spa way or the Nordic way. Once you exit the locker rooms, you walk down the steps. If you continue walking straight, you approach TBL inside, the floor dips down and you walk into the 100+ degree water while still in the building and making your way towards the wall eventually exiting outside fully submerged. If you go that way, you’re welcomed by a lava wall cave and bridge once outside. This is known as the “spa way.”

Or, you can enter The Blue Lagoon the Nordic way; wild and free! Through a bit of coercion by Sharon in our group, a handful of us decided to do as the Nordics do. We hung up our already soaking wet towels (you have to shower before entering the Lagoon), shivering, feet bare, and left only in our swimsuits.. we opened the building doors to the outside. The air temperature was sitting right at freezing and we felt like Nordic Queens as we walked the path from the building to the shimmery blue water in front of us, the steam rolling far higher than we were tall. And wow, what a feeling. From catching our breath because we were shivering to feeling the warm, healing-esque salt water hug our bodies was unexplainable.

The Blue Lagoon goes on and on and on. There are nooks and streams everywhere you turn. There are two bars; a mask bar and an alcohol bar. After applying mud masks, we made our way to the bar where I tried some Somersby Cider. Between the two places lies a waterfall that you can stand beneath and get a waterfall water massage, it was incredible. The water isn’t deep. Standing at 5’8″, I think it reached my neck at the deepest. We visited with others on our trip, floated aimlessly on our backs, eyes closed and took in as much as we could in the time we had. Iceland has so many “worth it” factors and this one is right there at the very top of the list.

Tonight we hunt for the Northern Lights but before that, I hit up the Bjór Garðurinn for dinner. I went down alone but found some people from my group that I hadn’t had a chance to talk to much yet. Deb and Dan and then Eric and Rosanne; both mother/son duos which I found very sweet. I travel with my mom at least once a year and I know I’ll forever cherish those trips so seeing other parent/child pair-ships makes my heart warm. Our conversations over dinner were great ones and the food was good to boot.

Following dinner, everyone met in the lobby bundled up in our warmest of clothes. We were about to embark on an Atlantic adventure off the coast of Iceland in search for the dancing lights of the north. I stayed on the top deck for most of our excursion visiting with Eric and G but also made my rounds and visited with a few other people while patiently waiting for the Northern Lights. There were these cool suits people could put on to keep warm, they looked like astronauts walking around. It was mighty brisk outside but I didn’t end up grabbing one.

I definitely have a vaca-crush on the Croatian tour guide, Lucas, of Elding Whale Watching. While we didn’t end up seeing the lights tonight, his commentary was delightful and his wit was on point. Only a certain type of person can make safety protocol instructions sound interesting enough to listen to. It’s the accent, I’m sure of it.

The trip out to sea wasn’t for naught, though. We saw the beautiful lit up skyline of Reykjavik from the boat and were the closest we’d been yet to one of the mountains we could see from shore. Even in the dark, it seemed majestic. We could also see the Imagine Peace Tower really well. Yoko Ono created the Imagine Peace Tower in memory of John Lennon in 2007, it holds the wishes, wisdom and peace of millions around the world. We didn’t get an opportunity to physically visit it but I still sent my wishes to it the same way I do when I see a shooting star.

Since we didn’t see the lights tonight, we go hunting again tomorrow but via bus instead of boat. The forecast was really good tonight but the cloud cover eliminated out chances of seeing anything. Thanks for reading!


Day 2: Jet lag is real.

I’m HERE! I’m in ICELAND! Is this real life?! I feel like my heart is going to jump right out of my chest.

I was welcomed at the airport by Gunnur (G), the tour guide for the week. I can already tell she’s going to be awesome. She welcomed everyone with the sweetest “Hello, Hello” and I love it; her voice is so clear and it’s soothing to the ear. The few people I met in Chicago during my layover arrived shortly after I did in the waiting area.

Once everyone arrived, we were ushered to the bus which was a lovely bright pink EF tour bus, we won’t be able to miss that this week! The drivers name is Ivar and I think he’ll be our driver all week. There were already a handful of people on the bus, I’m not sure when their flights arrived.

When we arrived at the hotel, it was still morning but I’m not sure of the time. The day is a little bit of a blur, I’m so tired. I did my best to sleep on the flight but I’m finding out that I didn’t succeed. We had to hang out in the lobby for an hour or two before the Welcome Lunch at 11:45. Most people, myself included dozed off multiple times as we waited. There’s a restaurant in the hotel called Haust and the lunch was, as they described it, a luxurious Christmas buffet including local delicatessen. It was elaborate and beautiful. Everyone loved the food; I’ll refrain from any criticisms because my taste pallet is that of a 5-year old so I can’t really provide a legit review. The dessert was hella bomb though. Icelanders know how to do dessert, that’s for sure!

We went around the table, I think there are 27 of us, and introduced ourselves. I think I may be the only person in the world not to have been to Australia and New Zealand, ha! Quite a few people in the group have traveled there and they said it’s just wonderful.

In addition to Valerie from earlier today (last night?), I have a feeling I’ll hit it off with two other ladies here together too, Sharon and Theresa. Theresa is a relative of Sharon’s husband and they’ve traveled together quite a bit it sounds. They’re both from the Baltimore area and have very inviting personalities, which I appreciate.

After a filling lunch, we headed out for a city sightseeing tour to jump-start our time in Iceland. We toured the grounds of the Ásmundarsafn Art Museum and Hallgrímskirkja Church. The museum’s grounds were filled with mostly naked and abstract statues created by an artist by the name of Ásmundur Sveinsson. If I remember correctly, the museum used to be his home and opened as a museum sometime after his death.

We also visited Perlan Observatory Deck where we had the most beautiful and picturesque 360 degree views of the city from above.  This definitely helped to wake me up. My favorite photo is at the end of this post. I captured a beautiful fall meets winter photo of Mount Esja. It was just stunning.

Our last stop was near the Parliament. Some of the people on our tour elected to walk to the Parliament. Others, including myself, took a walk along the river to catch the sunset (at 3:45 p.m.) and visit an abundant amount of birds flying every which way.

I don’t know what to expect these next few days but this city has already exceeded any expectation I could have had. The jet lag is hitting me so hard, I can barely write so I think I’ll call it a night. I don’t even think it’s dinner time yet but I need to crash. Tomorrow is full and I’m in ICELAND. I’ll never get used to this.

Day 1: That airport life, though.

It’s nearly 5:00 PM and I’m at gate M20, terminal 5 in O’Hare. I’m tired and I’m hot. Why is it every time I visit O’Hare (this is only time numero dos), I have to walk thirty thousand miles? Gate M20 is the last M-gate at the end of a marathon length hallway with nothing to eat or drink. The struggle! But it’s whatever dude, I’m almost to Iceland.

YES. ICE ICE, BABY. I can’t believe it either.

On my trek back towards M-something-that-is-not-20 but basically at the beginning, I ran into this really cool couple. They were cool because they were wearing a light blue, almost periwinkle Schrute Farms sweatshirt. Why is that cool? Because I’m wearing the SAME exact sweatshirt. We have a club now.

I’ve also met a few people on my tour. Sue and Jim, they’ve been everywhere, man. I’m not kidding. Paris, Australia, New Zeland, Kenya, Egypt, China.. you name it. Oh Hawaii too; Greece next year. Sue doesn’t stop talking. Jim doesn’t talk.

I also met a chick named Valerie. I spotted her Go Ahead tag about 20 minutes ago but I didn’t know which level of creep was acceptable. Eventually Sue and Jim found her too and they connected the four of us.

That’s about all for now. I don’t know how much writing I’ll get done on this solo adventure. I received two travel journals as birthday gifts this year so I’ve packed one along. I have a feeling I’ll be writing in that and transcribing my ramblings into a blog format when I get time after returning home. I’m trying this really foreign thing called living in the moment. It’s pretty cool.

We board IcelandAir in about an hour or so. I’m going to catch up on an Elevation Podcast and re-fill my water bottle. Bless (bye in Icelandic).