Reflecting on 2016

As I write this, I have been awake for 33 hours straight and my head feels like it is swaying from exhaustion and jetlag, half of my heart is broken into a million pieces, while the other half is whole and my hands are so cold I can’t feel them. But I am still feeling so very blessed. 2016 was a year full of blessings for me, so I would like to take some time to reflect on my year.

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Flying over Florida

I feel like a lot of people feel that 2016 was a rough year, but I am not one of those people. 2016 was overwhelmingly positive and quite literally life-changing for me.

It didn’t start in a great way. I was in and out of agony from gallstones for 13 months and was scheduled to finally have my gallbladder removed on the 11th of January. I stupidly did not have private health insurance in Ireland (I do now – I learned my lesson!) and the public system is awful here. They cancelled my operation. Thankfully, a new team took me on and my surgeon fought for me and I finally had my gallbladder removed on the 24th of January. I never thought I’d be so excited to be taken in for an operation. Life without a gallbladder is glorious and I am so lucky I have not suffered any repercussions.

In April, I was very busy interviewing twelve guidance counsellors around Dublin for my Master’s dissertation. I thoroughly enjoyed this process and feel I learned an incredible amount from them.

In May, I surprised by sister by flying home for her college graduation. It was a very quick trip home, but so worth it. I will forever be grateful that I was there for this special day.

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I started Sean Nós dancing in July and in less than two weeks, I am moving up to the advanced class! After a 6-year hiatus from dancing, my soul needed it again. I missed tapping the most, so I figured I would try something similar (but also very different) and a style that would allow me to dance to beautiful traditional Irish music. Now I never want to stop!

I went to the Fleadh in Ennis. Enough said. (Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is a traditional Irish music competition)

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I celebrated my 28th birthday in Oxford with my life wife – an unforgettable, perfect weekend!

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I visited my dear friend H in Galway for 24 hours and we went swimming in the sea – my first time swimming in the sea in Ireland!! The water was 14C/57F.

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For Thanksgiving, my favourite day of the year, my life wife and I celebrated with 21 friends in our apartment. This was our 3rd annual Friendsgiving that we’ve hosted together in Dublin and our hearts were warmed more than ever with the turnout and enjoyment that was had that evening. In 2016, Thanksgiving helped me realise that, more than ever, the support system I have here is truly incredible. (I still can’t believe we squashed 23 people in our sitting/dining room!)

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Two hours after I submitted my dissertation, I got a call for my very first “career” interview – at the best school in Ireland. I didn’t get the job, but the interview went well and was great practice for me. I got the second job I interviewed for and it’s the perfect job for me. I am so happy. I am so incredibly proud of myself for beginning my career in another country.

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I took this photo right before I went in for my interview – St. Stephen’s Green

I went to northern Germany for a long weekend with my dear friend H in mid-December. She is from the small town of Schönberg, where we stayed with her loving parents. They welcomed me and treated me like one of their own for the whole weekend and I had a wonderful, relaxing time. We explored 3 different Christmas markets together and this was my very first time in Germany.

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Weihnachtsmarkt Stockseehof

I recently found out that I passed my dissertation with no corrections… meaning I am officially finished with my Master’s degree! I was also invited to present my results at the annual conference for guidance counsellors in March.

I was able to spend Christmas at home with my family. After spending two Christmases away, it’s not something I ever want to do again. I am so grateful that I was able to fly home this year, especially since I just started my new job in mid-November (perks of working at a school!). I had the most beautiful time at home, though it went way too quickly. This was a family focused visit; I unfortunately did not have enough time to see any friends on this trip.

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Christmas in Florida – Shephards at Clearwater Beach

To elaborate on my opening paragraph: I returned to Dublin yesterday from Florida and it was a longer journey than it should have been. As always, I had to take a red-eye flight, which I despise because I cannot sleep on planes, EVER. Half of my heart is broken into a million pieces because I had to leave my family. All expats can relate to this – it never gets easier. Ever. In fact, I think it only gets harder every time. I rarely feel lonely when I’m alone, but currently do, big time. I miss my family desperately and especially miss the little moments with them. The other half of my heart is whole because I am back in my favourite place in the world. I never thought I’d say this, but I am really missing the Florida sunshine and beautiful weather because my hands are so cold I cannot feel them. How quickly I forgot how perpetually cold my bones are here thanks to the dampness!

2016 was a year full of blessings for me and I am really excited to see what 2017 brings. Definitely on the list: enjoying my last guaranteed year in Ireland, hopefully travelling somewhere with my sister, graduation in April (and my parents are coming!), long weekend in Italy with my parents and enjoying my last months living with my life wife/best friend. The rest is still unwritten.

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Emerging Adult

I am no longer a student.

I cannot believe I just typed those words! I submitted my dissertation exactly one month ago today, on the 12th of September. I am only just now starting to feel some relief and am quite surprised it took this long. I was extremely busy immediately after submitting but as soon as I could, I spent four days in a row doing absolutely nothing. I literally spent each of those days lying in bed and staring at the ceiling and out the window… and it was absolutely glorious. It is exactly what I needed to reset myself mentally and physically because, as expected, the last two weeks of writing my dissertation were extremely intense.

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Exactly two and a half hours after submitting my dissertation, I got a phone call and received the news that I had my first guidance counselling job interview. My very first interview for a career-focused job… my very first interview for a job I actually wanted, not simply needed. I could not even believe the timing – I was on the most incredible high that day. The interview went well and I am very proud of myself, even though I did not get the job. I know there is something out there for me and I still have a very positive outlook on my job search. I’ve been spending my days applying for jobs, relaxing, spending time with friends and generally being excited about autumn’s arrival in Dublin. I’ve already enjoyed multiple pumpkin and butternut squash dishes with my lifewife/bestie and we started officially planning for Thanksgiving on the 1st of October.

Since I have finally had some much needed downtime, I have had a lot of time to think. I feel like I officially became an adult over the last month. It’s of course been a gradual process and much of it has been evidenced in my blog, but I feel it really happened sometime between the 12th of September and today, the 12th of October. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an adult, and, while I’ll never really grow up by choice, I’ve thought about these changes in myself and it’s fascinating to think about. On my 21st birthday, I tried various alcoholic drinks and hated everything I tried and remember thinking “I will never drink alcohol” (this obviously changed). The same goes for coffee. I remember, in my early and even mid-twenties, my dad telling me that I would enjoy coffee one day. I smile to myself thinking that one of his greatest joys in life is enjoying a coffee with some sort of pastry or sweet. This is now one of my greatest joys and consider myself to be a coffee connoisseur. I used to laugh at my dad and shake my head when he told me this. I am also officially tired of not knowing where I will (physically) be in one year’s time. I am ready to settle somewhere and have a place I can call my own. I want to be able to buy things without thinking about how I will transport it across the Atlantic Ocean if needs be. I am also very eager to begin my career and look forward to the day that I am hopefully settled in one job that I love. Another very adult thought as of late: I have realised I generally do not believe in soulmates (though there are exceptions). When it comes to romantic relationships, I don’t think there is only one person on this earth you are meant to be with. I think it depends on timing and where you are in a particular moment of time. And I have realised that friendship, companionship and compatibility is more important to me in a relationship than romance.

I am excited to see how I change and progress over the next couple months. I cannot believe how quickly October is flying by! Things to look forward to: lots of time with friends, new Gilmore Girls episodes (!), Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving (our 3rd annual and it means the world to us that our friends are as excited as we are!) and hopefully going home for Christmas.

August Thoughts

Dearest blog, we meet again… at the time we usually meet:  when I am struggling to write my dissertation.  I find blogging and writing creatively often helps me to write academically, so here I am.

I simply cannot accept the fact that it is the 1st of August. How did this happen?! Time is flying faster than usual and if it’s true that time flies quicker the older you get, I cannot imagine what life is going to be like when I’m a whole lot older.

I’m not ready for it to be August for a few major reasons:

  • This is my last official month of being a student and therefore, life as I know it will never be the same once August is over.  As much as I am ready to be rid of the stress that comes with being a student, I am not ready for such a big change and will never be ready to give up my ever-changing, flexible schedule that is always full of variety.
  • My dissertation is officially due this month, need I say more?   This is the most terrifying sentence I have ever typed! It is going well but is naturally causing me lots of stress and is eating up all of my energy. Summer college classes are not a thing here in Ireland and it’s getting old trying to explain to people how this summer is the most stressful time of my student life. “But aren’t you supposed to be on holidays?” NO! “Well, you deserve a holiday when you finish!” … If only I could afford one!
  • I am not ready to be 28.  I am very, very excited (and blessed) to be celebrating my birthday in Oxford with my life wife at the end of this month, but I am not ready to say goodbye to 27, my golden year. Twenty-eight just seems so much older. I still feel like a 14 year old a lot of the time. I am currently reading the book “The Defining Decade:  Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now” by Dr. Meg Jay and, while it is incredibly insightful and parts of it make me feel so much better about myself, I do wish I had discovered this book in my younger twenties and find myself wondering and worrying about the state of my life. Having said this, if you are a twenty-something, read this book now!! I cannot recommend it enough.
  • When August is over, I am officially facing the dreaded unknown. I will be in a major transition period and, while I know I will still be living in Dublin, I have no idea what I’ll be doing for work next month and if I’ll even have a job.
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Procrastinating going to the library to work on my dissertation by colouring

I must say, one positive thing about being a Master’s student trying to finish her dissertation is the ability and excuse to justify anything. Even though I’m as poor as they come, I can easily justify a take-away coffee every day and the occasional (but more occasional than normal) treat… because I’m finishing my dissertation and will do whatever it takes. Whatever gets me through!

Who knows where I’ll be in a month’s time. It’s terrifying but also a bit exciting. We all go through these major transition periods and I do have faith that whatever is meant to happen, will.

Are you going through a transition period right now? Tell me about it in a comment!

Checklist of Things to Do in my 20’s & 30’s

The following is a list of things I must do (if I haven’t already) in my 20’s or 30’s:

1) Eat healthy foods – This is actually a change that has happened to me already, and I am so grateful for it. I actually want to eat healthy meals (almost) all of the time because, unlike in my adolescence and younger 20’s, I do not want to feel gross after a meal… ever! I think twice about what I’m going to eat before I eat it. I am not saying I never treat myself to cake, a burger, pizza or fish and chips… I most certainly do, but in moderation and I dread the after effects of eating this stuff. This is one way I know I’m growing up.

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Must eat less full Irish breakfasts, as much as I adore them!

2) Drink less alcohol – This is another change that has already happened to me and happened to me at a younger age than most people. I have absolutely no desire to ever get drunk again and I mean that 100%. I never want to get drunk again. I didn’t start drinking until the age of 22, but spent that year of my life very much enjoying alcohol. I simply cannot imagine drinking that much these days and I now limit myself to 2 drinks on a night out. At age 27 (nearly 28), a night out for me now is much different than a night out when I was 22. My ideal night out now is a nice meal with a glass of wine followed by a cocktail and in bed by 11 p.m. (at the latest)!

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3) Settle in a home – This is how I know I am really growing up, because I didn’t even feel this way 6-8 months ago. I still do not have a desire to buy a home, but I want to rent a home. I want to settle in a place I can call my own. Six to eight months ago, the idea of settling down in one place was the most awful sounding thing in the world. I am quite tired of not knowing where I’ll be living after my lease ends and I want to be able to buy things for my home (like kitchen gadgets, my favourite!) without thinking twice about possibly transporting them across the Atlantic Ocean. I also really want to live in a house, not an apartment. I am the lightest sleeper in the world and am tired of constantly worrying what noises I’ll hear from my neighbours.

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It would be nice to have a permanent home for me and all of my stuff!

4) Apply for my dream job – I will be completing my Master’s degree at the end of this summer (how did time fly so fast?!) and will therefore be qualified to work as a guidance counsellor. I am so excited at the prospect of finally having a career and one that I really think I am going to love. I never thought this would happen to me! It’s definitely one of the most exciting things about becoming an adult.

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Time to be a professional!

5) Think about and plan for retirement – I will be honest and admit, this is something that crosses my mind fairly often lately, but I have done nothing about it. I have not had a stable enough job as of yet and certainly have not had a job that pays me enough to save anything (with the exception of the money I saved for my round the world trip). I am very close to being qualified to work in my field (a career! Me?!) and when I finally do, planning for retirement will begin. 40% of millennials don’t have current plans for retirement… that’s a pretty scary statistic! It’s a major goal of mine to no longer be part of that statistic, I’d rather be with the 60%!

6) Travel the world – I’ve done it once and thought once I completed a round the world trip, that might satisfy my wanderlust for such a big trip, but instead, it did the opposite… I want to go on endless round the world trips!! I want to keep going. At the top of my list: Japan, New Zealand & Mexico. I also want to see more of my country (the U.S.), especially the National Parks! Really, I just want to travel more often.

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7) Manage my finances – Ugh, this is definitely one of the biggest downsides of adulthood, but it has to be done. Since I am getting ready to finish my Master’s degree and just finished Exit Counselling for my loans, paying off my student loans crosses my mind a lot. It is a terrifying, daunting thing that constantly makes me wonder if doing this Master’s was worth it, but then I remember, without it, I would not be able to work in my field. I am very blessed to not have any loans from my undergraduate degree.

Personal Capital has a great Wealth Management Tool, which can assist you in managing your finances and planning for retirement!

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8) Become best friends with my parents – I am happy to say this has already happened to me and we’ve always been close, but me moving abroad brought us even closer. At my age now, I can say that I really and truly appreciate everything my parents have done for me, and I think it’s very important to reach that stage.

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9) Rekindle my interest in fitness – Something I have achieved in the past but not currently. The stress of my Master’s degree (and let’s face it, life in general) has caused me to stop going to the gym when in reality, I know it would only help relieve stress. I used to love going to the gym and need to find that motivation again.

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10) Achieve happiness – I think the trick to this is achieving everything else on the list first, then true happiness will follow (and will hopefully accompany me on the journey).

Returning to a place you didn’t like the first time

I’ve always said I love (or at least like) every place I’ve ever travelled to. With one exception: Belfast.

I spent one week in Belfast in 2011, which is definitely a big part of the reason for my dislike for Belfast. One week is too long to spend there as a tourist. It wasn’t all bad – the history is fascinating and I Couchsurfed and met some lifelong friends. It was just so different from anywhere in the Republic of Ireland and to my 22 year old self, not in a good way. At 22, when I travelled, I liked to constantly be on the go and do and see as much as possible. Belfast is not a good place for this because it’s not much of a tourist attraction – there isn’t all that much to see. At 27, I’m a very different traveller and prefer to get to know a city the relaxed way through its cafes, bars and restaurants. Belfast is absolutely wonderful for this and I am so glad I gave it another chance. I’ve felt terrible expressing (or at least thinking of) my dislike for Belfast all these years!

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I have a good friend, D, who is currently living in Belfast and is studying at Queen’s University. He’s been there since September 2014 and I’ve been meaning to visit him ever since. I finally had the opportunity to do so and spent all of Wednesday and Thursday there. He gave me a tour of Queen’s and I am envious of their library! It is so much nicer than Trinity’s and I’m obsessed with the C.S. Lewis room. We had lunch at Maggie Mays and I definitely want to try one of their massive milkshakes next time!!

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Queen’s University Belfast

I had the best time and now have so much love for Belfast. I stayed at a stunning boutique B&B called Maryville House off of Lisburn Road and I couldn’t possibly recommend this B&B enough! It is gorgeous and felt like a home away from home. We explored Lisburn Road which is my new favourite area of Belfast, just a 10 minute bus journey from the city centre. So many lovely cafes, restaurants, bars and boutique shops.

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Maryville House

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We lucked out with the weather and it was very sunny, so we sat outside for coffee at Miel et Moi. I enjoyed a cappuccino and an almond scone – really lovely place with super friendly staff.

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Miel et Moi

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Miel et Moi

We then popped (literally) next door to The Albany – a stunningly elegant bar. I had the New York Sour:  rye whiskey, roasted orange sherbet, fresh lemon juices, Cabernet Sauvignon, served with a camomile foam. Gorgeous cocktail and I’ve never had anything like it before.

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The Albany – New York Sour

We then walked around the city centre for awhile before eating dinner at the Crown Liquor Saloon. We shared the nachos and the wild boar & chorizo burger (combining chorizo and its spices of paprika and chilli with lean and flavoursome wild boar meat) which was unreal!!! This was my parents’s favourite bar on the whole island of Ireland so I had to try it. After eating, we went downstairs and were able to grab a snug for me to have a pint to toast to my parents. Such a cool place for a group of friends to go and a really beautiful bar!

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Crown Liquor Saloon

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Afterwards, we went to Kelly’s Cellars and enjoyed some Irish music, followed by Maddens, where we had a long chat with a lovely local. Loved the buzzer on the door to get in – remnant of Belfast’s troubled past.

On Thursday, I had a long, leisurely breakfast at my B&B, followed by an apple and cinnamon scone the size of my head. No exaggeration. I then (finally!) went to the Titanic experience and was happy to avail of the student discount because the prices are fairly shocking (understandable though, since Titanic is now Belfast’s biggest tourist attraction and I know the city spent loads to build it).

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Maryville House Breakfast

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Massive apple and cinnamon scone

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The exhibit is absolutely gorgeous and was a very informative, enjoyable experience. My only disappointment was the fact that there weren’t many artefacts recovered from the Titanic. I was expecting it to be more of a museum, but it really was more of an “experience”. They did a fantastic job though. There were many different ways to learn – a ride, voices from survivors, reading, artefacts of letters, china, menus, set-ups of what different rooms looked like on the Titanic, a simulator which made you feel like you were on the boat, a discovery theatre, interactive computer programmes, etc. and it’s all visually stunning. I spent 2 1/2 hours inside and then had a look at the SS Nomadic (included in the admission price) and the outside where the Titanic was built. I then met D for a light dinner- we ate at Stix and Stones and I was very impressed by this place.

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I’d like to send an apology to the universe for my previous dislike of Belfast. I am happy to say my opinion has completely changed and I have a lot of love for this city now. I had forgotten how friendly the people are! Belfast natives make Dubliners seem rude – and I think Dubliners are very friendly. The lesson here is:  if you travel somewhere and do not like it, give it a second chance a few years later. You might be surprised.

 

Positive Outlook

I’ve decided to take a new mental approach to my life as it is now, specifically in regards to being a student.  I officially only have 7 months left of being a student and the realisation of that is actually devastating.

Let’s face it:  being a student is stressful.  Very stressful.  Deadlines, starting over and finding your groove once again every time you start a new chapter, editing, reading a whole bunch of information your brain refuses to process, paraphrasing, referencing, not to mention the financial aspect of being a student.

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Surrounded by dissertations – intimidating!

However, I’ve recently realised it’s less stressful (or maybe just a different type of stress) than “real life”.  I’ve recently started to appreciate the variety being a student brings to my life.  Two days a week, I work at my part-time job.  One day a week, I do work experience.  Three days a week, I am in the library with the flexibility of being able to take a lunch break whenever I want and for as long as I want, as well as take a coffee break to meet a friend if I should so desire.

In seven months time, I am hoping to finally be working in my chosen field, which is amazing and scary at the same time.  In the mean time, I am going to enjoy the routine I have now, because the variety and flexibility is pretty amazing.  Life is pretty amazing.

Summer 2015 Goals

As of Friday, I will officially be half-way finished with my Master’s degree. I cannot believe how time has flown by. Since my summer is about to begin, I need to hold myself accountable for my upcoming goals. In order to attempt that, I need to write them down.

My goals for summer 2015:

– Improve my Spanish. Whenever someone asks me if I speak a second language, I am highly embarrassed to have to say no. I am sick and tired of it. There is absolutely no reason why there are so many bi/multi-lingual people in the world and I can’t be one of them. I took 4 years of Spanish (2 in high school and 2 in college) and at the time didn’t actually want to learn, I only enrolled because it was a requirement. When I went to Peru last June, everything changed. I really want to speak Spanish fluently so am going to enroll in lessons this summer. After I master Spanish, I want to learn Italian.

– Volunteer and gain work experience. I need to make myself more marketable so I’ve reached out to a few organizations to gain some work experience this summer. I want to help the long-term unemployed (including the homeless, early school leavers, etc.) find work.

– Work more hours. I need to start earning some money!

– Figure out what topic I want to do my dissertation on. This is overwhelming but is a must! My dissertation proposal is due in September, at the start of the term.

– Travel. I’m looking to book my trip to Iceland this week. I’ve already booked a trip to Amsterdam with my sister. I’d also like to return to Italy this summer or early fall. I’m hoping to return to Paris with K at the end of summer where we will simply eat ourselves to happiness. I would also like to finally visit Kilkenny.

– Eat healthier and start an exercise routine. I said this in my New Year’s post and have not started yet. I had some health issues that prevented me from starting an exercise routine before now, but there is no excuse for the unhealthy eating. I am tired of feeling like crap on the inside and want to lead a healthier lifestyle. If anyone has any nutrition tips that helped you get started, as obvious as they may seem, please do share. I’ve done this before but feel like I am starting over.

– Be outside as much as possible and enjoy the gorgeous summer weather that Ireland has to offer. Growing up in Florida, summer was always a dreadful thing and never anything to look forward to. It’s the complete opposite here in Ireland.

What goals do you have for the summer?