Friday, July 4, 2014

Paris, Pouilly, and the Rock of Solitude

If the first day of travel and our first hours in France were perfect, then our first few days will need a new word… Heavenly? Surreal?

I had the thought sometime during our first week, probably at one of our three hour meals with Robert’s extended family and their friends, that I was actually on the set of some French version of an Almodovar film – complex, beautiful characters with layers of personality and charm unfolding before me as each person talked over the next, teasing and philosophizing, sipping 100 year old wine and munching on ratatouille. It was inexplicably fascinating - I have my own loud mouth family, it is nothing new, yet it felt fresh and exciting – and unbelievably fatiguing.

Our first full day in France, however, Robert and I were on our own. Enthusiastic about the coming adventure, but still feeling rough from our red-eye flight. We decided to take advantage of our delightful hotel and sleep in, just until the very end of the breakfast hour. We had a brief moment of indecision of whether we should venture out for baguette, pastries, and see more of the Vincennes area, or order breakfast up to our room – the latter choice winning, and winningly good in the end. The Don Jon, a 2 star boutique hotel I would recommend to anyone traveling to Paris, serves up the most delicious platter of coffee, carbs, yogurt and cheese. No, it wasn't necessarily all natural and fresh from the local boulangerie, but after more than twelve hours of sleep and hunger, it was perfect. We couldn't finish it all, but I smartly stuffed the two plastic wrapped pancakes in my bag for later – just in case hunger might strike while in transit or out of reach of a baguette.

When we finally managed to pack up our things and make our way to check out, we had a solid five hours until our train departure to Macon where we planned to meet Robert’s aunt and uncle. Our first order of business was purchasing a fresh baguette to carry with us - from which point we would not be found without baguette on hand for the rest of our travel. Since the majority of our trip had been dedicated to visiting different pockets of family all over France, Robert and I decided we better take advantage of what might be our only “significant” chunk of time in Paris and see its most well-known monument, the Eiffel tower.

I can’t decide what was most impressive about the Eiffel tower. It wasn’t as tall as I’d imagined, but compared to the surrounding buildings and parks, it was quite a sight. The quantity and variety of people visiting the site was maybe the most astounding (although the number of people seen our day spent in Paris at the end of the trip would far surpass this). Silly as it may be, I realized, before visiting, I hadn’t really known about the park or walkway that surrounded the tower, or imagined that one of the world’s most recognizable structures would attract this many tourists. The line to climb the tower’s stairs or ride to the top was unfathomably long (again, our last day in Paris I would be even more amazed by the lines for other sites) – Robert and I passed on the experience and chose instead to enjoy the ground view. I cannot think of a single tourist site I’ve visited in the US that attracts as many visitors as I saw our first day in Paris. Not the empire state building or the statue of liberty. Not the World of Coca Cola. Not the Golden gate bridge.

Maybe times square… on New Years Eve...

After shooting about five hundred photos between the two of us, Robert and I moseyed back to the Vincennes area with hopes of checking out the Chateau de Vincennes, the enormous castle we had only glimpsed the outside of the evening before.

Of course, we stopped for an espresso fuel up – accompanied by pastries and ice cream. The streets in Vincennes were emptied of people, presumably because it was Sunday and any tourists in the area were at the Chateau. Robert and I sat side by side, quietly talking and watching the one or two couples that walked by, a group of French teenagers, and eventually just sitting in silence and taking in the beauty of the quiet cobblestone streets framed by the beautiful apartments and boutiques that one usually imagines when picturing France. By the end of the trip, I came to appreciate moments like those the most – Robert and I together, enjoying something simple, with nowhere we needed to be and nothing we needed to do.

Except that we did actually need to be somewhere. We needed to be at the Gare de Lyon in less than two hours, and still hadn’t seen the castle or retrieved our luggage from where we’d stowed it away at the hotel. Two blocks from our ice cream stop, standing on the drawbridge over the Chateau’s moat (yes, an actual drawbridge over an actual moat), we gave ourselves ten minutes to view, photograph and leave the castle if we were going to make it to the hotel, metro and station in time to catch our train.

I think, once when I was living in Spain, I traveled with my friends to a castle with actual walls and a moat - but I don’t remember being inside it. So, I counted this as my first time crossing a moat and drawbridge. My first time standing completely surrounded by castle walls. My first time realizing that, along with a castle, there was an actual town hidden away here, complete with a gorgeous church, several long three story buildings with varying degrees of beauty and ornateness, ANOTHER moat and tinier castle (or prison perhaps?), and some sort of official building that I figured was where the rules had been made. Sadly, we barely had time to take it all in, much less do a wiki search or find the information center to learn the history of this place. I made a mental note to look it up later as we snapped some photos and booked it back to our stuff.

(I still haven’t looked up the Chateau de Vincennes, but just added it to my reading/research list...)

By this time, Robert and I were pushing the envelope on time. We probably didn't look out of place in tourist trodden Paris speed walking down side streets towards the metro or running through the Gare de Lyon with our suitcases flying behind us. I was so incredibly grateful not to be making this connection on my own, as I was too overwhelmed to figure out my way around the station and we certainly didn't have time for me to practice asking for help in French. Robert seemed to magically know the correct voie and where it was located within the massive station - he didn't stop once as he kept looking back at me, running and yelling, “This way!” or pointing indeterminably in the direction of what looked like a wall, “It’s over there!”

Laughing as we gasped for breath, we made it to our car with a few minutes to spare and I rewarded Robert with a Merci Kiss. Inside the TGV high speed train, I was inclined to reward him with more – Robert had booked us first class seats on the fast, fast train. It was cushiony, air conditioned heaven after sweating in the sun for the afternoon. I curled up next to my Mi Amor and enjoyed the smooth ride towards another kind of heaven…

Macon is a French town just an hour by high speed train from Paris. Our destination, however, was on the outskirts of Macon – one of the many surrounding vineyards known for its grapes which make a unique white wine called Pouilly Fusse. Robert’s aunt and uncle were the owner and operators of said vineyard, a fortunate connection that I was sure would provide me with a unique experience unlike any other France first timer, not to mention the chance to get to know Robert’s incredible family.

Well, the chance to do my best.

Considering the most French I had studied previously were four two hour classes at my company (in which I sort of learned to count and tell time) and several different podcasts I had listened to while commuting to my office – I was definitely on uneven footing when it came to communication with the family. But I was insistent on sticking to my personal challenge and forcing myself to speak as much butchered French as possible, hoping to gain far more than I could from any two hour class or podcast.

Robert’s uncle, the Winemaker, met us at the train station where I proudly told him how pleased I was to meet him (with an impeccable accent if I do say so myself). My pride vanished, however, as the conversation progressed past hellos into actual questions and comments – it was if I knew no French at all! I gave it my best effort, but at this point, Robert, the walking French-English dictionary, was pretty much speaking for me as I parroted his French. Unless, of course, the Winemaker addressed me directly in English. Still, I do feel good that I continued to try to respond in French...

Arriving at the Winemaker’s chateau was like stepping into the pages of the best French guidebook I would ever be able to get my hands on - you know, the kind with photos so beautiful, you're sure there is no way the place could actually exist in reality. Here on your left is a scenic country road. There on your right are the fields and fields of lush, green vines. Over that hill you’ll see a line of quaint homes belonging to the workers and their families. Oh, and this? This is where we sleep – a 500 year old chateau passed down from generation to generation in our family, filled with centuries old furniture and art that will take your breath away.

We spent the evening talking, eating, drinking, and generally being merry with the Winemaker's family and friends that were visiting for a weekend event and national holiday. I spent most of that time cooing at the Winemaker's grandson, a handsome baby boy, sensing that he and I were on the same level - neither of us were that sure we knew what was going on, not that we could communicate very well if we did. Actually, the Winemaker's wife, sister (whom we'll call the Singer based on her angelic singing voice I was fortunate enough to hear during the evening and later on in the trip), son, and the Winemaker himself spoke pretty darn good English, but I was obstinate in my effort to communicate in French. It pained me every time someone automatically spoke to me in English, though I tried not to be embarrassed and recognized it as everyone being kind. I knew that if I didn't really force myself and continuously ask for others to switch back into French, I would begin justifying slipping into English even when I was sure of how to say something.

The food was delectable. The baby was adorable. The view was outstanding. The singing (a family past time at meals it seems) was heart stopping. The family was warm, inquisitive, and funny. By the end of the night, Robert and I were feeling fat, sassy, and lulled into a peaceful euphoria. We also had invites to the homes of the Artist, a Lyonnaise friend of the Winemaker who was part of the dinner, and the Singer, Robert's aunt from Paris.

What more can I say? Heavenly.

The bed, as ancient as the chateau I am sure, was back-breakingly stiff, but that did not deter Robert and I from sleeping until the sun was well over our heads. When we finally made our way to the patio where we had enjoyed dinner the night before, we found it decked out with a delicious breakfast of fresh baguette and pastries, homemade jams, fruit and more. A few more friends arrived and the baby returned to my lap. At some point the breakfast moved from the patio into the living room for a respite from the sun, only to meld into another meal on the patio - the Winemakers had made us a local dish, usually reserved for winter, savory sausage and potato that was absolutely to die for. I'm not sure when we stopped eating and talking, but at some point Robert took a look at me and suggested to his family that it might be my nap time.

The Winemaker led me to a part of the Chateau I had not received a tour of yet, a private garden with a gorgeous view of the area, cherry trees, and the perfect little lounge chair to take a nap in. Robert sat and talked with me holding my hand, I'm guessing until I fell asleep, as I woke up some time later to the sound of Chopin. Robert had left his phone in his chair with nocturnes streaming from the spot. It was a bit confusing, waking up to that magnificent view with the perfect piano accompaniment.

What is this place? is all I could manage to muster.

Still full from our six hour morning meal and anticipating another lavish dining experience that evening, Robert and I decided to take a hike to the Roche de Solutre to work up an appetite. I couldn't help but think of it as the "Rock of Solitude." Solutre is actually a proper noun for the town surrounding the massive slab of limestone rising into the sky, a solitary piece of rock - and thus the Rock of Solitude.

As Robert and I walked down the winding road and through the picturesque towns towards the cliff, we found ourselves falling into a wonderful discussion about life and the work we wanted to do. I'm not sure what it is about walking or hiking that gets me so motivated, but I always feel ready to take on the world after a foray through the countryside. Its one of the things I miss most about living in Washington - all of the hikes and countryside.

At the roche, I was reminded even more of Washington as we encountered climbers loaded down with ropes, helmets and shoes, ready to scale the face of this limestone beast. It was certainly an enticing bit of rock for any level of climber - not too tall, but highly exposed sitting up on a gradual scramble. Surely the view from the very top must have been something to see, because even the vantage point Robert and I had was marvelous. I declared to Robert that for our next trip to France, I'd be bringing a pack of climbing gear as my carry on - a sentiment I repeated many times by the end of our two weeks.

After scaling the roche, Robert and I returned to the chateau. We managed to get just a bit lost navigating the roads, but enjoyed photographing all that we saw - a classic Mercedes parked in an ancient driveway, churches surrounded by rosebushes, even the exploits of a vicious neighborhood cat who we watched stalk, stun, and start gnawing on a baby rabbit not more than five feet away from us - all without once caring about whether we were moving in the right direction.

The Winemaker and his wife were ready with plush chairs to rest our weary feet and my first ever ratatouille to fill our (somewhat) empty bellies. With just us as guests that evening, the conversation turned towards close family, Robert's experiences growing up, and each person's philosophies on parenting and childhood. Eventually my effort to keep up became too taxing so late in the evening, and I found myself instead trying to ingrain every detail of the surrounding beauty vivdly into my mind. It was the end of our only full day in Pouilly, we would be leaving in the morning, and I knew I would miss this place as soon as we left.

It was almost impossible for me to believe that we had only been in France two full days. That we had been in Pouilly just two nights. I couldn't believe that I'd already had the pleasure of meeting such generous and fascinating people, seen some of the most beautiful landscapes I could imagine, and had already eaten my weight in deliciousness. It seemed we had just spent a month gabbing away the hours with Robert's family - in the best possible way.

Robert and I woke up with the sun one and only one morning - the morning we left Pouilly.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

La vie se pass.

Robert is sleeping like the dead in our tiny hotel room. Meanwhile, I am wide eyed and unable to drift off.
We have just had, in my opinion, the most wonderful day of travel and most perfect first hours in France. I still cannot believe I am here, or that I get to spend the next 15 days enjoying moment after moment of relaxation and fun with Robert. I feel a bit as if it is my first time outside of the US all over again - and it feels magical.

We left Boston around nine Friday evening. After having stayed up until 3 am the night before packing and preparing, not to mention a full day of work, I was lucky enough to uncomfortably sleep through our red eye to Dublin, afterwards killing our five hour layover with more napping, window shopping, and of course, food. Robert was not so lucky, and despite his fancy noise cancelling headphones, had a much worse time of it - hence his current corpse like slumber.

I'm not quite sure when it hit, perhaps in the few days before our departure. Or maybe in the airport as I people watched and waited for Robert to meet me there. Certainly long before we touched down in Dublin or boarded our connection to Paris. But, already, I am overcome with the familiar child like glee that I find so difficult to harness and maintain in day to day life, but comes so easily when I find myself adventuring. None of the waiting, tiny rubs, bigger bothers, and frustrating details seem to affect me the way they normally do. Whats more, every small kindness and pleasure seems magnified ten fold. The only things I don't seem to have patience for are others who won't take part in the joy of the little things and find only the negative in travel - that and the cold. My Achilles heel, my nemesis, being cold will always sour my mood. And though the flight was freezing, luckily it seems France has welcomed us with true summer weather I have been longing for during the past winter months.

It is so exciting to be traveling on this big adventure, my first overseas trip in four or five years, with Robert. Aside from the fact that I love hearing his stories about family and traveling here, and that I love his speaking French, getting away like this is something I think will be so good for us to do together. We have both had a tough time, a lot of changes and ups and downs in the last year, and we have both been working so hard - we definitely deserve this vacation. I'm very curious to see how our travel selves will mix together in our first long trip - as our day to day selves have already found habits and routines around each others - sometimes not always in the best ways. I think its thrilling - and healthy - to shake things up for ourselves.

Already Robert seems pretty entertained by my oohing and awing over everything, my childish impulses, and my questioning how to say every single word and phrase in French. He declared how adorable I was to ask the customs officer in Dublin for a passport stamp, although we weren't meant to have one. But nothing feels better than attempting a phrase or butchering a question in French, only to see his eyes light up and a big handsome smile spread across his face. Even if I must seem very silly, Robert has given me free reign to be so as much as I want and never seems bothered - already a good start to seeing how we handle traveling together. I think he has even begun looking for little curiosities and unique niceties to point out - for example, the orange juice label in Dublin which advertiseed it as "Smooth, no bits".

I am so happy my happiness is bringing Robert happiness!

I am not entirely sure if Robert hopes to get anything more out of our vacation then, well, vacation - time with family and me, and of course time once again in France. He doesn't seem to have too much on his mind, unlike me, always becoming a bit reflective and thoughtful during travel (especially during plane and train rides). Then again, we have both been thinking and talking quite a bit about the work we do, the work we want to do... For me, I only hope to enjoy myself and recharge after all that has happened this year, since our move, and even before.

That, and, I am going to speak lots and lots of French. Today, I have, I am proud to say, talked to every stranger I have met in French - even if I say things wrong or have to ask for Robert's help. He and I have also been speaking French more with each other. Usually, it starts by me saying something quite simple, then moving on to something a bit more challenging, stopping every other word to ask Robert (in French of course) how to say it, then repeating the entire sentence (several times) to him, or the stranger who is patiently waiting.

Our little system worked quite well on the train and with the hotel concierge, but was really put to the test at dinner.

After sleeping off our travel for a couple of hours, Robert and I wandered around the Vincent area where our hotel is - passing the MASSIVE castle I am hoping to see the inside of tomorrow - and found our way to a funky little pizza place. We sat outside next to a couple of older men and a really odd French couple - the man dressed completely in neon athletic gear and the woman in all black. Our waiters, and the men next to us, all seemed to be from the country - or at least that was Robert's impression, as their accents were strong and the men were discussing stories of tractors and crazy spider bite infections. Actually, I am not sure that the spider bite story was an indicator of whether or not the men were from the country, it was just the most distinctive story Robert translated for me. The waiter had trouble understanding me AND Robert, but we managed to order a delicious pizza with prosciutto and egg, as well as escalote au marsala avec frites (veal with fries). It was our neighbors dessert which turned our evening into the magical kind of little moment that cannot be planned.

As the apparent owner of the restaurant delivered two martini styled glasses heaping full of strawberries to the older gentlemen, I honestly couldn't help but stare. Hungry or not, I knew I would have that dessert, and the men noticed. Laughing and friendly, they made a comment to Robert, who also made a joke back. As Robert and I finished dinner, Robert asked the owner over to see if we could order our own glass full of strawberries. The elder gentleman chimed in with the owner and Robert, all discussing how I might like it best. Apparently, strawberries are quite delicious with a liqueur the gentleman had tried, which I kindly refused, as I don't drink anymore. Robert, seizing the moment, made his favorite joke about having a baby on board (absolutely not true!), leading into a spiral of excitement, laughter, and more jokes. Finally, my strawberries were brought out, covered in what might have been the richest whip cream I've had in ages. Our neighbors instructed me on the perfect amount of sugar to pour over the dish (as if it weren't sweet enough) and continued to joke with Robert. The owner and several waiters joined in the merriment. I must say, it was absolutely wonderful to feel my cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so hard.

Lost in savoring my strawberry treat and the mind-blowing espresso I proudly had ordered all on my own, I admittedly missed a bit of the conversation, unable to focus on dessert and figuring out the French.  One way or another, shots of sweet liqeurs were being offered all around as jesting and conversation continued - my broken French making the gentlemen and waiters laugh, egging them on more. Robert, responsibly at first, politely refused the shots, having already worked his way through several glasses of wine. The men would not be dissuaded - a toast was in order for this little group!

As we all finished up, I couldn't help but feel in awe of this unique, little encounter. This is what is so wonderful about travel. Not just wandering around a beautiful city like Paris, not just the breathtaking sites like the castle we were sitting across from, not the food or sweets or shopping and beaches. I just love the people. I love going somewhere knowing that for the next two weeks, every person I meet will be someone new, someone who I would never have met otherwise, someone who has yet to make a mark on me and I have yet to make a mark on - but now, because I am taking this trip, all of that is possible. Ooh, I just love the idea of it, and even more, I love the reality of it - being in the middle of a group of strangers, laughing and carrying on.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Here's to 2014...

"Tonight I will raise my glass to a year gone, full of unexpected and often wonderful changes, with a handful of good friends, in a gorgeous city that will be my home again soon enough. I’ll greet 2013 with smiles, laughter and, of course, dancing - ready for all that I couldn’t possibly imagine in the year to come."

This is what I wrote on the eve of 2013 as I donned my red dress, downed champagne and dove head first with a few of my closest friends into one of my wildest New Year's Eves since the second or third year of college. I predicted everything with such accuracy - the smiles, the laughter, the dancing - but above all, that which I couldn't possibly guess would happen.

During that same night I would flirt with rejection, only to discover the start of a friendship and romance I could not have begun to imagine for myself. That same week I would suffer the unexpected and utterly devastating first rejection of my career when I was told "no" to six months of research, only to be inspired by an even more meaningful project a month later. The year that followed, I would lose a contract after four year, I would be hired and fired to a new job within a week, and struggle to find work that mattered for months. I would struggle financially, with my health, with friends and family, with relationships past and present, and with the demons of my depression. But I would also gain unexpected friends who brought me joy and comfort, unexpected work that challenged me and helped me grow, and a deeper understanding of my strengths and weaknesses.

Entering 2013 with reckless abandon, I had no idea what was in store, but I was ready for whatever came my way. Good or bad, I was gonna go for it.

And I did...

That's exactly what I am taking with me into 2014. I want to take every challenge head on, I want to treasure rejection for the lessons it teaches me, and I want to see each risk as an opportunity that I am brave enough to take. It's this attitude that I am most proud of as I reflect on my 2013 and all that I've gained - a loving and caring partner, a job that motivates and inspires me, and a more complete understanding of myself as I grow, continue to make mistakes, and learn.

When pinpointing the things I want to change and accomplish in 2014, I realize that I need to narrow my focus from the big picture - what I am often so fond of looking at - to the little things. My biggest struggle in this last year has been the day to day. There is so much I want to do, so much I feel I should do, so much I am aware I need to do, that I become ridiculously overwhelmed and I end up doing nothing.

I've spent a lot of time making plans, making back up plans, making to do lists, etc. etc. I spend far too much thinking about plans and how to accomplish what it is I want to accomplish that I never accomplish it. I've spent hundreds and hundreds of hours planning out my day to be the most productive it can possibly be - then looking at the list and not doing a damned thing on it. I have to admit, I'm one of those people who says, "I'll start tomorrow" or "I'll do it next week" or "It's best to start these things on a Sunday" or "I couldn't possibly start something like this at 8:00 at night." Even now, I spend my commute home writing short to do lists for my evening with all the to dos I expect from myself - then find myself incapable of meeting a single one of those expectations.

It is exhausting!

The worst thing about this behavior is that it contributes to my self-guilt, self-shaming, and, to be completely honest, my depression. I make these outlandish plans or these simple to do lists and, when I can barely check off one or two items on the list, I end up dissapointed and beating myself up. Let me tell you, it's not a good way to treat yourself.

So, I'm giving up crazy, outlandish plans for 2014 and I'm giving into the day to day.

Interestingly, I made this decision AFTER I made my 2014 bucket list (located here). The thing is, when I sat down and reconsidered the items on my bucket list, I realized I don't need a big plan to accomplish them - I just need to do them. I want to learn French, so I'll study French. I want to go to Puerto Rico with my Dad, so as soon as I have the money for the ticket, I'll request the time off and buy the ticket. I want to finish my Masters, so I'll sit down, make myself write and see how far I get each day.

Then I thought about the rest of what makes up my life and I wondered how I would manage the day to day without planning everything out, as I usually do. I realized I don't really need some master plan to be successful in the other areas of my life either... I don't need a plan to love and respect my boyfriend, I just have to do it - be grateful, be caring, be patient, and love. I don't need a plan to do my job well, I just need to do it - in fact, its generally the kind of job that requires a whole lot of flexibility and creativity at the click of the send button in my e-mail. I don't need a plan to become a better friend or daughter, I just need to do it - call, text, write and skype.

And aren't those the things that matter, the things everyone hopes to improve on and makes resolutions about? Caring more, loving more, working harder?  It seems everyone wants to accomplish these things, but it really doesn't take much to make it happen.

I guess, to put it simply, the lesson I learned from 2013 and want to implement in 2014 is... just do it.

(Here's looking at you Sifu - or Nike, who I think stole their slogan from Sifu)

So, just doing what I know I need to do to be the best person I can be is my first major resolution of 2014. When my alarm goes off at 5 am, I am going to get out of bed. If I feel like writing, I'll write. When it comes to my thesis, I'll make myself write. If I feel like doing yoga, I'll do yoga. No more - "I should but I'll start tomorrow" or "I'll have time later" - I'm just going to do it.

To accompany that, and I must say it fits quite perfectly, my second resolution is to love myself more (or better?).

Although 2013 was a year of come backs and risks that paid off, it was also, I realize, a year of self-depreciation.

Many of the things that have helped me to gain confidence in my mid-twenties were taken away or out of easy reach, including incredibly supportive friends, rock climbing and outdoor adventuring, jobs (although I did get that back), financial security, modeling, and - hard to admit - some unbelievably unhealthy crutches that I didn't realize I had depended on.

I talk down to myself a lot. I tell myself I'm gaining too much weight, no longer as pretty as I once was, that if I am not pretty others won't value me. I tell myself I can't make new friends on my own, I'm too odd, too awkward, not funny enough, not easygoing enough. I tell myself I am no good at my job, that others are better, that I don't belong there, that it's crazy that I got it. I tell myself I'm lazy, that I don't do enough for others, that I don't do enough at all.

This is not how I would motivate my friends. This is not how I would inspire my students. This is certainly not how I would talk to anyone I love. Yet, I've used this kind of talk to motivate myself  and "improve" for a long time.

Luckily, I've had two very important people in my life who've helped me realize that I speak this way about myself, but more importantly, that it is not fair, kind or a right. The first is my boyfriend, who wouldn't dream of ever speaking to me the way I do, and won't tolerate anyone else speaking to me that way - even if it is myself. The second, is actually a group of people who I'll refer to as a unit, the women who I've come to know and love (my sister, my thesis advisor, my climbing friends, my family) who continue to help me realize this about myself through the work they do, the conversations they have, the things they write and read, and the news they share.

I think I'm through with talking down to myself. It's exhausting and depressing and it didn't help me meet the three main goals I had for 2013 - financial security, understanding and command of my health, and my masters. In fact, the breakthroughs I did make towards these goals were only after I started ignoring my own self-depreciation and listening to the positivity of the other people in my life.

That's it. Just do it. Love myself. That's all I want for myself in 2014.

2013 was an incredible year. From driving across the country (twice!) to moving to a city I'd never visited, I experienced some huge changes and accomplished a lot I can be proud of. Just reflecting on it - and all that I've learned - now makes me thrilled about all the unexpected adventures and experiences I'm sure to have in 2014.

So here's to charging full speed ahead, ready to do whatever it takes and make the best of whatever comes my way. Here's to really loving myself, and in turn, being able to give more of myself, love more wholly, and succeed in ways I may not have been able to before. Here's to 2014!