reflections on 2015

I’m not quite sure where time has gone. 2015 slipped away from me before I had time to acknowledge its arrival. It was a year of many changes, good and bad, and was possibly one of the most difficult years of my adult life. Reflecting back is difficult as I tend to bury bad memories since they are too painful to hold onto, but I’ve recently been reminded that we can’t truly experience joy or happiness unless we also also allow ourselves to experience pain, grief, and sadness (Brené Brown is such a breath of fresh air).

Until now, having allowed myself to more fully absorb the past 12 months, I hadn’t realized how difficult a year it was. I stumbled into 2015 stressed, oppressed, and mentally, physically, and emotionally fatigued. I think I survived the first few months by never stopping, never slowing down, never allowing myself to breath, to dream, to live. If I just go, go, go, go, then I don’t have to sort through and process my hurt, my wounds, my pain, or even admit how unhealthy I am. I’m thankful for family who often seems to know me better than I know myself, as they supported me, encouraged me, and spoke truth to me, even when I was unwilling to see it.

2015 brought so much doubt, insecurity, and anxiety. Over and over again, I questioned everything. Who am I? Where am I going? What am I doing? Did I really just say that?! Why am I so stupid? What if I made a mistake? What if I get hurt? I have nothing, I am nothing, I have so little to offer… if I never try, then I can never fail, and if I never fail, I’ll never get hurt. So many times I just wanted to sit in a shell and protect myself from shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. It felt so much easier than to have to confess my failures and shortcomings to the world. I was reminded that my concerns and fears are so small and so futile. Every time I acted (in spite of my anxiety), I was shown how limited a perspective I have and how little I actually know or control. The pieces always fell into place exactly when they needed to, and always different (and better) than I’d hoped or dreamed.

I also experienced and saw so much loss and hurt in 2015. It was a painful year from the very beginning, starting off with the violent loss of a client, a tragic death of a friend’s dear husband (a man born just days before Jesse), the unfathomable death of a baby, an agonizing loss to suicide, another life stolen by overdose… my heart and eyes are swelling as I write this, and though more lives were lost, I’m stopping there so I can cherish and remember these precious souls, because they’re more than just a list. Losing these people and watching their families and loved ones mourn and try to pick up the pieces of their broken hearts has taken my breath away. These families are so resilient and so inspirational, and I am grateful for their transparency and willingness to continue loving and living fully. I’m not sure that I would have the strength.

Additionally, 2015 brought about losses of relationships. For the first time in my life, I was allowed to see the raw pain of individuals going through breakups/divorces. Never before have I been able to see how excruciating it is to end a relationship and process through the rubble and debris that is left behind, like completely redefining one’s identity, friendships, goals, purpose, and future while also having to reconcile one’s past. The life that was so carefully stitched together has to be painstakingly ripped apart and a mourning process must follow each time a thread is torn. There’s no rushing the process; let’s be real, we’re talking about the aftermath of the loss and betrayal of one’s most trusted and valued friend and ally. We have to learn how to trust, breath, think, and behave all over again while being in one our darkest states. It’s going to be messy and painful, and we’re going to lash out and hurt the people who are trying to love and support us, or vice versa. I learned so much about being a friend this year and am grateful for trust and forgiveness despite my shortcomings and failures.

Those experiences also led to the realization that there are two different types of families: the one I’m born into/married into, and the one I choose/adopt. Sometimes those two are the same, but I realized for the first time this year that family goes beyond just blood, and that blood doesn’t mean someone is family. This year I really grew to be aware of who my family is and I had my first taste of a new kind of love and support during what could have been an incredibly dark ending to the year. My family, the one I chose (some blood, some not), was willing to listen to me cry, process, grieve, question, accuse, begin to accept, and confess to some realizations. Being affirmed by and given their support, love, listening ears, seeds of wisdom, and voices of truth (over and over again, because I have a thick skull) was one of the best parts of 2015, despite the circumstances that led to it. I am grateful for all they have invested into me, as well as their seemingly endless patience with me, as I’m not always the quickest learner. I’m grateful that 2015 gave me a chance to redefine and begin to understand what family truly is. Here’s another 12 months (11 now) of learning and growing, and hopefully not repeating the same mistakes.


Glen Highway, Alaska

We went to Alaska this summer. It’s already been 3 months since our trip and I’m not sure where time has gone.

It was incredible; every view was breathtaking and I felt like I was on a different planet. Being enveloped by so much vast, empty space that is filled with so many gorgeous plants and animals, while being surrounded by such enormous mountains was an incredibly humbling experience.

On one of our last days, we drove down Glen Highway, through the Matanuska Valley to climb around and explore the Matanuska Glacier. I took this panorama of the Matanuska River on our way there. I hope it gives you a glimpse of Alaska’s beauty, which I hope to see again someday.


Les Calanques

day9cIn hopes of nabbing one of the better seats on the tour boat, Jesse and I rolled out of bed earlier than we would have liked, pulled on the nearest clothes, and trudged down the stairs. The morning air was cool and day9bfresh, and I didn’t feel so disappointed about missing out on the Calanque+swimming tour. At least, I keep telling myself that. Anyway, we’d read that Marseille was a bit sketchy/ghetto, so we had our eyes peeled on our walk down to the port. Near one of the metro stops, I saw what appeared to be a drug deal. Two guys walked casually near each other, not locking eyeday9as. One man handed the other what looked like a handful of cash and the other gave him a paper sack. The two continued walking away from each other like nothing had happened, and the one man peaked into his bag to check the contents. It was amusing and felt out of place, especially since it was early and the streets were quiet and empty. day9eWe arrived at the dock and find that no one was there yet, so we walked a few blocks away to the find caffeine at the Green Siren we’d seen on our map. Yep, I felt 100% like a tourist, but I felt a need to try Starbucks in both countries we visited this trip. And yup, I felt doubly like a tourist as a carried my 16 ounce cup out the door and down the street back to the docks, as 1) nobody else we’d seen had drank coffee on the go and 2) we hadn’t seen anyone else consume this large of acup of coffee. I think the largest portion I’d seen was an 8 or10 ounce, though their coffee is much stronger and richer than the brewed coffee of the US. I was day9gonly a little embarrassed though, as the bittersweet nectar was 100% worth it. We boarded the boat fairly DAY9Hpromptly and found good seats on the top deck and crossed our fingers that the sun wasn’t too cruel today, as we hadn’t thought to put on sunscreen (or even brought any with us, come to think of it). We settled in for the ride and inhaled deeply, taking in the fresh, salty sea air. The air was still crisp and cool, and I slightly wished I had brought a sweater with me. Ah well, it just created an opportunity to sit a little bit closer to Jesse.😉 day9jI don’t want to bore any one, so I won’t go into too much detail, but the calanques are rocky inlets along the French Mediterranean coast, kind of like fjords. The rocks are mostly limestone and have been quarried for many years. The base of the Statue of Liberty is actually made from it, as well as part of the Suez Canal. They are beautiful, almost white, and manifest themselves in quite the variety of shapes and designs, with various nooks, crannies, and weathering on them. They are beautiful, and each calanque we visited had its own vibe, distinct style, and beauty. In this photo, you can see that this calanque has been quarried. There were many families and boats hanging out here, though most of the other inlets were quiet and had few visitors, perhaps because they day9fare hard to get to. One particular one was well known among nudists, and one was present, though it was really too early in the day for most people to be out and about. For reference on the size of the calanques, I’ve included this photo. If you click it and look closely, you can see a group of hikers boulder along one of the masses, and another solo hiker/climber above them near the peak. I really itched to dive into the water and day9kswim to the rocks so I could climb and explore… or just bob around on the water on a kayak and scrape along the edge of the cliffs. Anything, just so long as I was closer and could touch the water and rock with my hand. Despite those desires, being outside this day, sailing across the sea, completely at the mercy of the driver, no thinking, no planning, no navigating, no wondering if this was the right stop to exit on was one of the most refreshing moments of the trip. It was relaxing and day9djust what we needed at this point in our adventure. I’m glad we did it and got a break from walking the city streets.

Here’s two last things – a small panorama of one of the cliffs and a short video that demonstrates the colorful sea bed, thanks to the plant life down there. Sadly, it is endangered. Enjoy!



post2bWe got to Marseille easily. The train station was huge and felt much more like an airport than any of the other train stations we had been in; there were cafés, giftshops, news stands, benches, multiple monitorspost2c updating passengers with arrival and departure times of trains, and many, many platforms. The vibe of the train station told us we had definitely left the calm of the Provence Countryside and had post2aentered a major metropolitan area. The train station sits at the top of a hill, which makes for an incredible first view of the city and displays the iconic Notre-Dame da la Garde Cathedral very nicely. It was easy to get a pretty good view of the spread and vastness of the city, which was quite a shock after spending the past 5 days in small towns.

We headed out of the train station, down the long flight of stairs, and began the trek down the hill towards the port and our AirBNB. It only post2dtook about 15 minutes to get the plaza where the apartment was, but finding the exact building and door to wait at proved rather difficult. Businesses and buildings weren’t very well signed or numbered, but after looking and relooking several times, we were able to find it and then found a seat at the fountain in the plaza where we waited forpost2k our host to arrive. At exactly 15:30, when our host’s assistant was scheduled to greet us, the main door to the building creaked open and a head popped out, glancing around. We made eye contact and Jesse and I headed across the street. In broken English, she asked her if we were here to meet post2jsomeone. We confirmed and gave her the name of our host before she led us up 3 flights of stairs and into an airy, bright apartment. The lady spoke very little English, but made every effort possible to answer our questions and show us everything we needed to know about the apartment. Again, I felt a humiliation/sadness that I knew only English! She endedpost2i up giving us a wrong set of keys, though Jesse had the smarts to test it right after she left, and finding that it wouldn’t unlock the door to the apartment, he ran down the stairs and was able to find her and remedy the situation before we were stuck stranded.

post2lAfter settling in for a few minutes, we ventured out again to explore the Arab district and hopefully find something to eat. I had my heart set on some of the delicious savory Arab foods (like pastilla) mentioned in our guide book, but sadly, we weren’t able to find the restaurant mentioned (Le Soleil d’Egypte) and discovered that it was a bit too early in the day for most restaurants to be open anyway. Thankfully, we were able to find the little Tunisian Bakery we’d read about, Le Carthage, and pick up some tasty treats. I’m not sure what everything was called, but the small squares were rose turkish delight, the triangle was baklava (of course!), the rectangle was some sort of date bar (makroud, maybe?), and the crescent shaped pastry was tcharek, I think. There were bees and flies zipping through the shop, traipsing through the mounds of powdered sugar on the tcharek tray, and climbing over the bodies of their deceased cousins, whom I believed died of a sugar overdose. Mmm, mmm. It’s all part of the adventure.🙂 When we finally sat down later to eat the pastries, we found more dead bugs in our boxes. We had to carefully avoid and inspect each bite, but it was well worth it.

Leaving the Arab market, we headed over to stroll through thepost2f mall that was just a few blocks away. I was curious and wanted to see what shopping was like in France. It was fun to get a sense for the different styles and see the various groups of teenagers prowling the mall. Not so different than the US. The store “American Freshman – authentic campus clothing” gave me and Jesse a bit of a laugh. Throughout our time in France and Spain, we had seen several Hardrock Cafe shirts also, which made us chuckle. Barcelona Hardrock Cafe in France, and London Hardrock cafe shirt in Barcelona, etc. I don’t know why we found it so entertaining. Perhaps it just went along with the stereotypical tourist look; confused individuals wandering around with a guidebook in one hand, a camera in the other, wearing shorts, carrying a small bag/backpack, and typically wearing some shirt that sought to impress (“I’ve traveled HERE!”), but really made them stand out even more as tourists. We also noticed a lot of people wearing shirts with English words or phrases on them, just as we see shirts with French/German on them in the States, or tattoos with Chinese/Japanese characters. People really are more similar than different.

post2gWe stopped by the Monoprix on the way back to the apartment and picked up a few things for dinner – tortellini, sauce, sheep cheese, camembert, baguettes, and wine. I loved the variety of cheeses at the grocery store there, though it would have taken me many months to try them all.

The smell of the ocean breeze rolling in off the nearby port was just too much, so Jesse and I walked down to check out the departure post2etime for the Calanques Tour in the morning. Both of us were itching to get out on the water and just relax and get off our feet. Kayaking sounded the most fun, but was much more logistically complicated and would’ve taken up the whole day, and we were too exhausted for that.

We passed by a mob of people on the way back. Curious, we pushed our way in to catch a glimpse of some street dancers/break dancers. We watched for a couple minutes before continuing on to the apartment, where the rest of our evening consisted of cooking, journaling, surfing the net, and drinking wine.

Here’s short video of the dancers. Not very impressive, but fun and quite the tourist magnet.🙂

Arles Street Market

post1aWe woke up feeling pretty post1crefreshed and had a slow morning taking our time packing since our train to Marseille didn’t depart until 2 in the afternoon. We finally remembered to get a few quick shots of our basic but comfortablepost1b room. We checked out with Eric, glad to see his bright smile and adorable voice, and left our bags with him to pick up later in the day.

post1eSince it was Wednesday morning, market day in Arles, we headed off to wander through, partly for the experience, and partly looking for souvenirs or tasty consumables to have later. There were loads and loads of beautiful fruits and vegetables, and huge variety of cheeses, spices, and olives, all open to the air. The seafood booth was probably one of favorites post1f(and the stinkiest), with whole fish sprawled out ice. I think there was swordfish and some sort of small looking shark, though I’m not sure if that’s actualy what it was.

There was a booth for everything! Several with multiple varieties of nougat, another with many different kinds of nuts, a watch booth, and jewelry booth, a booth with random junk, post1ga scarf booth, and sweater booth, a general clothing booth, an apron booth, a pottery booth, and olive wood booth… seriously, anything you can imagine, they probably had a booth for. It just kept going on for blocks and blocks and blocks. The streets were filled and we occasionally had to push our way through the dense masses of people when there was a particular popular/discounted booth. It was a pretty fun experience and it was nice to be surrounded by crowds of locals for once, rather than the crowds of tourists we had grown familiar with. Many of the “locals” were immigrants of all different ethnic origins, so that only added to the excitement and depth of the atmosphere.post1l

After wandering through for about an hour and a half, we trekked back to the booths that looked most appealing to us and bought our souvenirs. We settled on two aprons (olives on one and cicadas on the other) and two pouches of lavender from one booth, and small olive wood cutting board and risotto paddle from the olive wood booth. Those decisions were difficult, as I wanted everything, but alas, wood is heavy, large, and expensive.

post1dAfter heading to the ATM and Monoprix, we found we were a bit hungry since we had skipped breakfast, so we headed back the same café we had eaten lunch at yesterday. The same girl who took our order the day before took it again today. She was from Austria and was working in Arles over the summer to improve her French. We ordered gazpacho and post1jsandwiches again as well as bubbly water.  Prior to this trip, I never consumed or enjoyed carbonated water, but I found it refreshing on this trip. It somehow cleansed my palate better and seemed to quench my thirst moreso than regular water. We ate out on the patio and enjoyed a relaxing lunch while people watching and taking in the view of the city and its ancient monuments one last time. Then we headed back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the train station. We were glad to have given ourselves plenty of time to get there, as we got a little lost on the way. The map we were post1husing was a tad confusing, but thankfully we figure it out before we’d gone very far. The train station was quiet and we were easily able to find our seats on the post1ktrain. I had planned to journal on the train, but was too exhausted opted to people watch and enjoy the passing scenery. We could tell we were headed to a much different part of Provence, as there were several Arabic people an women with head coverings aboard the train. I was eager to get to the city and see its diversity myself.

Eating in Arles

post2pWe had eaten a light lunch of gazpacho (for me) and sandwiches (for Jesse) at a small café earlier in the day, but found ourselves quite hungry now and thought it was late enough for dinner (it was about 6pm). We looked through our guide book and picked out one of the recommended places that looked good and headed off. Sadly, we found that it was closed, so we picked out another option from the book and trekked on. Again, we discovered the second post2roption was closed. Somewhat disheartened, we picked out a third and continued on, only discover, yet again, that it too was closed. Feeling upset, hungry, and emotional, we headed back towards the Arena to see what food was available. We spotted a small creperie by the Arena that was open and decided we’d just eat there. We just wanted to eat SOMETHING. Still not quite certain of restaurant customs in France, we awkwardly went inside and asked the employee if we could have a table for two. He responded, “that isn’t a problem,” in a somewhat irritated tone.

post3cSlightly humbled, we walked back out to the patio seating area and found a table. A few minutes later, a server came and brought us a menu to look through. When she came back, we were mostly ready to order and asked for two savory dishes – a pasta and a crepe. She gave us somewhat amused smile and the pointed to a blurb across the top of a menu page and then gestured towards a list. Confused, I tried again, only for the girl, with a slightly condescending expression this time, repeating the same action and then state that only these select items were available until dinner started. I was still confused and asked when dinner started so we could order the other post3jones, and point again to the menu, where in small print it was noted that dinner started at 19:00. It was about 18:15 at the moment. Feeling immensely small (and still hungry), we decided to leave until  dinner and come back later. We felt incredibly awkward and intimidated by the whole situation (the first humbling experience of the trip) and needed to escape to center ourselves. As we walked away, we wondered if this is how Americans with no cultural awareness feel while in Paris – a sense of stupidity and shame that make s you want to hide. I did not like it, but I was glad to have the experience. It is good to be reminded that I am an outsider with much to learn and it’s always nice to have a post3adifferent perspective. The entire situation could’ve been avoided too if I had read more carefully, so in this case it was definitely a case of stupid tourists, though for being a tourist destination, I was a little surprised at the response of the staff.  Everyone else we’d met on the trip had been incredibly helpful.

After making it back to the safety of the hotel room, we flipped through the guidebook again, this time with a new understanding that the restaurants weren’t closed for the day, post3bbut most likely closed until dinner hours of 19:00. We found few on on street that looked good, so at about 18:55, we headed out to go check them out and make our selection based on menu and atmosphere. We ended up opting for the one that looked a little less fancy, Restaurant Le Plaza, and since we were one of the first people there, we were able to get one of the few remaining unreserved tables outside.

Umm, let me just say that I am so glad that we didn’t eat at the crepe restaurant. The food here was amazing! I think it was my favorite meal of the entire trip. Everything was divine and post3emelted in my mouth. We order a menú again, wanting to get the full French cuisine experience. My appetizer was grilled peppers marinated in olive oil with sliced ham and Jesse got a eggplant caviar with Brousse cheese (a soft sheep’s cheese), and a tomato coulis. YUM. Mine was scrumptious, but Jesse’s was definitely the favorite. It tasted like the most perfect noodleless lasagna dish I’d ever tasted. The flavors melded together perfectly and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s on my list of things to try to recreate once I can find the cheese.

post3dFor our main courses, I got a seared salmon with an amazing leek sauce and Jesse get a traditional bull-steak stew with red camargue rice, a rice that grows in the nearby wetlands of Arles and Provence.

Dinner was, not surprisingly, crème brûlée, the preferred choice over the dark chocolate dessert with a red fruit sauce.

post3hI absolutely love the French dining experience. i really enjoy the the waiters are attentive and helpful but don’t bother you or ask you unnecessary questions or try to make small talk. They do their jobs and that’s it. I feel they also pay more attention to you. We emptied the water carafe at the table, and immediately a server swooped in and whisked it away and before promptly replacing it with a new post3gone. I liked that I could just focus on my company while eating rather than the waiter, whether it be trying to get his/her attention or being interrupted by unnecessary talk.  I think it might have something to do with the fact that the tip is included in the menu post3fprice (and tax!), so they aren’t trying to suck up for a tip. It is definitely pleasant concept, and ideal to me.

Feeling full and happy, we headed back to the hotel, making a pit stop at the cafe we at at for lunch so I could momentarily steal the wifi and listen to the musicians playing beside the beautifully lit arena.

Crypts and Cathedrals of Arles

post2hAfter waiting at least 20 minutes, the sweet clerk at the entrance finally let us down into the crypts. I think they tried to limit the number of people down there at once, partly because the staircase was post2gquite narrow and maybe to keep it from getting too crowded.

The crypts were a lot bigger than I imagined they would be. They were, in fact, huge and we were  impressed. I felt like I was in a man made cave – everything was very dark and damp and there were puddles of water we had to navigate around. Historians are uncertain as to what these crypts were used for, but most were used for storage. Since these are so wet though, they believe it is more likely that they were used as housing for public slaves.

post2jAs I had felt for most of our trip, I was amazed again at how these ancient Roman structures are so intact after several thousand years. It was also so strange to me to be in region with such an ancient history that is so intertwined with the present.

After climbing back up the stairs an back into the bright sunlight, we stopped by to get some gelato at Soleileis, local gelatoria with all natural ingredients and unique flavor combinations. I got a couple different flavors to try, one of which was the fadoli, olive post2goil mixed with nougatine. Jesse got a few other flavors also, so we got a fair sampling and were not disappointed with any of the flavors. Mmmmm. We felt better and refreshed after getting a bump in our blood sugar level from the cool, creamy dessert and headed back to where we’d just come from to explore the St Trophime Church, which was just across from (or on top of?) the ancient crypts.

The smooth curves of the Romanesque style cathedral were a refreshing change from the harsh Gothic style angles we had seen during the first part of our trip. The cloisters made a post2inice, peaceful stroll and also an intriguing architectural study, as they was a mash-up of Gothic style, Romanesque style, and pieces of the old Roman theater (various columns and pieces of art). The roof above the cloisters was incredibly hot due to the lack of shade and it being mid-day, so we didn’t stay up there very long.

On the way back down, we stopped by a temporary art exhibit at the Cathedral. It was a bit shocking to see this particular type of art in an old Church, but perhaps that was part of the post2jartists’ vision and post2qstatements, I am not sure. All I know was it seem horribly ironic to have crude art in the wings of a church. There were pictures of the backsides of nude people, cutouts of nude people sewn into large quilts/tapestries, and a large blown up photo post2kof poop falling out of an elephant’s rear, and these were just a few of the many, many random art pieces decorating the walls. Bizarre, but sort of an interesting surprise and it made smile and I left the church with a spring in my step.post3k