I used to send out Christmas cards and a Christmas letter every year. It was a tradition I loved as much as receiving cards and letters from others around the holidays. Even if I hadn’t been in touch with someone in quite a while, the holidays were always a good reason to catch up.
Now, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier to keep up with everyone (well, almost everyone). I haven’t sent my annual letter since before I left on my career break trip, which means it’s been three whole years. While I thought about starting it up again this year, I realized that through my travels and moves and changing of laptops, coupled with other people’s moves and life changes, I don’t even have good mailing addresses for half of the people on my list back in 2010 – not to mention all the people I’ve met in the last three years who would need to be added.
As a result, I give you my electronic Christmas letter!
2013 has been a year of new and old. I started a new job in January, but back in my old field of alumni relations and development. I moved into a new apartment for eight months before moving back into my old condominium that I have owned since 2007. I returned to two of my favorite cities to visit – Washington, D.C. and New York – for the first time in years, while exploring Memphis for the first time. I also set foot in Toronto for barely 48 hours for a travel blogging conference, but I can’t even begin to say I saw any of the city to really count as a visit. I’ll need to return at some point to really do it justice.
And then I went to Nepal. This was country number 39 for me and my first new country since I crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan in September 2012. Ironically, I left for Nepal just a year and two days after I first returned to the US after my career break trip. Clearly I wasn’t meant to sit still too long. Nepal was an adventure and a challenge and I still have more to write about it. The photography focus was especially meaningful, as it allowed me to develop my photography skills while finally learning to use a DSLR – something I wish I had done long before I hit the road in 2011!
As I settled into my new job, I also took on various side projects, like Eventbrite’s Blogger Tour, which allowed me to check out ten different events in Chicago that I probably never would have signed up for on my own, including a really cool tour of Chicago’s jazz history. I started writing regularly for Viator.com, covering Chicago, Russia and the Baltic States, while contributing a couple articles to GAdventures.com as well. I got involved with Passports with Purpose, the travel blogging community’s annual fundraiser, and then joined the planning committee for the upcoming Women in Travel Summit, to be held here in Chicago in mid-March. As much as I pondered my role in the travel blogging community and struggled with writer’s block and declining statistics, I have found myself being pulled right back in.
My parents came to visit Chicago over Labor Day weekend and help me move back into my condo. We battled pouring rain and a couch I bought off Craigslist that refused to fit up my stairs, but at least had a great dinner at Andie’s in Uptown and a fabulous gluten free birthday cake from the Cookie Bar Bakery to celebrate my and my dad’s birthdays. I finally made it back to Minnesota for the first time in almost a year for a short Thanksgiving trip, which included a massive Black Friday shopping spree at the Mall of America – Black Friday sales plus no sales tax on clothing in Minnesota equaled great savings for me! I also got to catch up with my cousin Joseph who hiked the Camino del Santiago this summer and saw my niece and nephew again for the first time in almost a year. I’m excited to see them again for Christmas, as well as nephew number two, who should be arriving any day now.
Finally, if you’ve been following along on Facebook, you know that I welcomed two new little members to my family right after Thanksgiving. Stan and Tatev are two adorable kittens who came from a litter of six born in mid-October. The mother was a stray cat on the West side of Chicago and the woman who found her and took her in was eagerly seeking good homes for all of the kittens. After seeing them for the first time, how could I not take two? And while I have had cats before, I have never had kittens and boy, are these two a handful! (and if you’re curious about their names, Stan is in honor of my visiting the five ‘Stans in Central Asia during my career break and Tatev is the name of a monastery I visited in Armenia).
So now I head back to Minnesota for five days to celebrate Christmas with family. I’m already a bit nervous about leavingthe kittens, but I knew they are in good hands with the pet sitting company I used for years with my other cats. I’ll have a few more days off work once I get back to Chicago and I’m looking forward to doing some work on my condo to finally get it feeling like home again!
And as for 2014? Well, I am running the Georgia Marathon in Atlanta in late March and I am contemplating a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon around Memorial Day. Through my work with Passports with Purpose, I may have a chance to visit the schools in Mali that we raised money to build, but it isn’t likely due to the security situation there right now. I am tentatively planning on a trip to Iceland toward the end of June with some law school friends to run a midnight half marathon and, while a lot could change in the next few months, I am eyeing the end of August for a long-awaited trip to the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia! Of course, I don’t really have enough vacation time to do all of this, so some tough decisions may need to be made…
How was your 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014?