Memorable Moments of 2016

I always get reflective at this time of the year. For years I would journal on the very last day of the calendar year, looking back and reminding myself of all that I’d done (or hadn’t done), what went well in the year, what hadn’t. And then I’d set my sights forward, making lists of goals and resolutions and plans. A new year has always had a touch of magic to it: I still love the idea that I’m starting from a blank slate, that I hold the pen that writes in the story of my next 12 months.

But before we can get to the future, lets look back at the past! I’ve never written a ‘best of’ post, have I? In any case, I’ve been thinking about all that I’ve done this year, and I thought it could be fun to do a round-up here on this blog, going month to month. There were some things that went wrong, maybe some months where it felt like I didn’t do too much, but I’m going to keep this post happy and positive. These are my memorable moments from the year, along with some of my favorite photos. (And, in case you don’t make it to the end of this post: a great big thank you to all of you. I’m still astounded that there is anyone at all who reads this blog, much less people who have been coming back for years now. My blogging slowed down this year, but I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. If anything, I want to make blogging a more regular part of my routine for 2017, so I hope you’ll stick around).

January


I kicked off the year in Washington DC, a place I visited multiple times in 2016. I have several very good friends who live in or around the city and so I find myself there a lot: for art museums, baseball games, concerts. And I ended the month in Fort Royal, Virginia, where I met up with a friend for a winter weekend of wine tasting. But aside from these trips, the month was cold, and quiet. I made a few trips into Philly to hunt down the city’s best coffee shops, but otherwise I was tucked into my apartment and doing the tough, but gratifying work of writing my memoir.

February


Another cold, winter month and the few photos I took reveal simple activities: I wrote, I hit more coffee shops, I baked bread, I went on a few long walks when the sun came out.

March


More walks! More coffee! Art museums in Philly are pay what you wish on the first Sunday of the month, and at least once I year I get into the city to see my favorite works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This year I waited in a long line to get free tickets into the Barnes Foundation, a museum that holds an extensive collection of post-impressionist and early modern paintings. It’s an outstanding collection, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a winter Sunday than in the gallery of an art museum.

This month also held my first big trip of the year: a four-day camping excursion on Cumberland Island in the state of Georgia. It was an adventure, to be sure: I’d never been camping on my own before, and never for more than one night. I bought myself a new sleeping bag, a little camp stove, and loaded up my car and drove 12 hours down to Georgia. I took a ferry out to the island and crossed my fingers that this camping thing would work out. And it did. The weather was stunning, I explored all over the island, saw wild horses and armadillos and the ruins of old mansions.

April


The weather began to get nicer this month, so I took advantage and was outside as much as possible. I went on a far-too-long walk along the Delaware & Raritan Canal (I think it was about 18 miles? My feet were throbbing at the end and I had a small blister forming on the ball of my foot but it was a good to get back outside), spent a weekend in Frederick, MD with good friends, spent time with my family and kept chipping away at my writing.

May


I usually love the month of May but this year it seemed like it rained constantly. Did the sun come out at all? My pictures show beautiful days only at the end of the month, when I drove out to Cleveland over Memorial Day weekend to visit my sister. When it wasn’t raining I spent as much time as I could at my local park, hiking on the trails and getting ready for my summer adventures.

June


The end of work, baseball games, beach trips, hiking, a bridal shower for a good friend. And at the very end of the month, I set off for my 7-week summer in Europe, which I kicked off in Bath, England. I spent a day wandering through the city, finding my travel legs, and hanging out with Jane Austen.

July


It’s hard to pick the highlights from the month of July: on the 1st of the month I was at Stonehenge, on the 31st of the month I was dragging myself into Oviedo to finish the Camino de San Salvador. In between I had three mostly glorious weeks at La Muse, the writer’s and artist’s retreat in the south of France. If I had to pick a favorite moment from the month it would probably be sitting up at Le Roc with Homer, looking out over the mountains surrounding Labastide.

August

Look how dirty my leg is!!


Lots more walking to do this month! I started things off with 9 days on the Camino del Norte, then spent a week in Scotland, hiking the West Highland Way. Both trips were incredible, but by the end I felt ready to come home and spend the last month of summer with family and friends.

September


I checked an item off my bucket list this month: I officiated the wedding of two good friends! Afterwards I joked that I might make this officiating-weddings-thing a side-gig (anyone need someone to marry them?), but all joking aside, it was an incredible experience. The rest of the month was about transitioning back into work and enjoying the fading days of summer with long hikes and a couple trips to DC.

October


My mom and I took a little trip up to Concord, Massachusetts to see Walden Pond and (most importantly) Orchard House, which is the long-time home of Louisa May Alcott. I wasn’t supposed to take any photos inside but when no one was looking I snapped a photo of the desk where Alcott wrote Little Women. It’s my favorite book of all time, and after the trip I felt re-energized and excited about getting back into my own writing.

November


November had a couple weekend trips: one down to Maryland and Virginia and West Virginia- with a quick hike in Shenandoah National Park and a visit to Harper’s Ferry, and a day trip up to NYC to reunite with a couple friends from my summer at La Muse. There was election day madness and a relaxing trip home for Thanksgiving, and lots of walks and hiking as I took advantage of some mild fall weather.

December


This has been a quiet month. I’ve seen friends, baked lots of cookies, and spent the holidays with my family. Since my summer travels I’ve really struggled to get back into my writing, but I think I’ve set myself up with a good plan for the next few months. I’m ready to get into a new year, and I’m ready to see what I can accomplish in 2017. 2016 was, overall, a fine year, but now it’s time for something even bigger and greater.

Happy New Year, my friends, and I will see you all soon!

Bread and the Beatles- Photo(s) of the Week #8 and #9

How many ‘photos of the week’ have I missed? I’m thinking back to these past weeks and wondering where the days have gone. This is what always happens in the spring; the days grow a little longer and a little warmer and suddenly time disappears. I feel like I’m in catch-up mode right now, trying to get myself back on track with all of the things that have fallen a bit behind: practicing Spanish, hiking, preparing for the next Camino, writing.

I was keeping up, until all of a sudden I wasn’t. But this always seems to happen- just when everything comes together, life hits, and the routines vanish. But I’m lucky to be able to say that the things that have derailed me are all good: small trips and holidays and time with family and friends (and, well, a too-tight hiking shoe that caused my right foot to ache and resulted in a break from Camino training. Just when I thought I would have absolutely no trouble with footwear for this Camino!).

So here are a few photos. The first is all about bread: I help my mom bake her traditional paska recipe for Easter, and this year I did 95% of the kneading. My memories of paska making go back to childhood: my mom working her hands through the mound of sticky dough, the all-day process, the tall, golden brown loaves. I’ve done a lot of the kneading these past few years, and it always feels so satisfying: picking up the dough as it spills over the edges of my hands, folding it, throwing it, molding it. But this year was different, there was nothing satisfying about it. The dough was sticky. It was sticky like the heavy paska dough of my memories, the kind of dough that causes stress.

“It needs more flour!” I kept saying to my mom.

“No,” she shook her head. “Just keep working it.”

I should have trusted her, she’s been making this bread for over 30 years. But I kept asking, kept saying that I thought something was wrong. I also kept kneading the sticky mass, the dough coating my hands like an extra layer of skin. My face was red, my hair was falling into my face, at one point I was short of breath.

But in the end, she was right. The bread didn’t need more flour. It was perfect.

Easter paska

And the next photo is all about music. When I was 16, my mom, sister and I went to see Ringo and his All-Starr Band. At the time, I was at the height of my Beatles obsession, and Ringo was my favorite. We got to the venue early and as soon as I saw others carrying signs and banners, I instantly wished that I’d made one myself. So we rooted around in the car and found a manilla folder and I wrote RINGO in large block letters with a blue sharpie.

Later, during the concert, I stood and held up the sign. Ringo looked out in my direction, smiled, and pointed at me. “You’re 16,” he sang, “you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.” This still goes down as my very top concert/music moment.

This past weekend I was in Cleveland to see the Rock Hall Induction Ceremony. I was there, once again, with my mom and my sister, and I was there to see Ringo.

And despite more engaging speeches and more dynamic performances from other artists, the highlight was still Ringo. My grin stretched from ear to ear as I watched him, sitting at his drum kit, banging away with his head bobbing from side to side. Paul McCartney was there, too, playing his guitar and supplying background vocals- it’s as close to the Beatles as I’ll ever get.

The music felt timeless, I felt like I was 16 again.

2015 Rock Hall Induction Ceremony

Photo of the Week #7: A Return to Hiking!

A few weeks ago I drove out to my trusty state park to check out the conditions of the trails, and found that they were still covered in snow. And because I’m not a fan of walking over snow and ice, I’ve been sticking to a 4-mile paved trail that runs in a loop around the park. It’s a nice option for outdoor walking, but it’s just not the same as a wooded trail. I was anxious to get back into the woods, so to speak.

And this week felt like a turning point. It helped that I spent the first part of the week in western Virginia, where the weather was a little warmer and there were mountains almost at my doorstep. I took advantage of this beautiful area of the country and went on a few hikes: the first, an 8+ miler to a decent overlook, and the second, a 3+ miler straight up a mountain to a 360 panoramic view of the countryside (this is the hike that tortured my legs).

This part of the state is home to a section of the Appalachian Trail. Hiking the AT isn’t something that I think I’ll be doing any time soon, if at all, and yet… every time I’m on the trail or near the trail, I think about what it would be like to spend 6 months walking through the woods. There’s something immensely appealing about it- to spend all of that time almost entirely in nature. Moving slowly up a country (not unlike what I’ve done on the Camino, just a much greater distance), carrying not only my possessions on my back but also my food and my home… and doing nothing but walking. The Camino was such a great accomplishment, and I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to walk the entirety of the Appalachian Trail.

But for all of the trail’s appeal, there’s a lot about it that doesn’t appeal to me. Namely, wildlife. Specifically, bears. And snakes. And anything that moves during the night. And the fact that I can’t routinely pass through towns and indulge in cups of coffee and glasses of wine. So for now, I’ll stick with the Camino.

In any case, my 8-mile hike this week found me on the Appalachian Trail, but just for a mile or two. I was hiking the John’s Creek Mountain Trail- or at least, I was trying to. Supposedly, I would be on the trail for about 3.5 miles and then link up to the AT, where I would hike for another mile over to Kelly’s Knob, a ridge offering a decent view of the New River Valley. Except I couldn’t find the trailhead for the John’s Creek Mountain Trail. I drove up and down the mountain roads until I finally pulled over in a clearing that led to a wide, flat, dirt covered track. The track meandered up the mountainside at a very slight incline, and a sign indicated that no motorized vehicles were allowed through, but that foot travel was welcome.

After a few miles I came across an orange blazed trail, and for once my navigational instincts were correct: I turned right on the trail (which was indeed John Creek’s Mountain Trail), and after a mile hit the Appalachian Trail. I’m not sure where I went wrong and missed the trailhead, but I’m glad that I did. The mountain track was an easy way to start the hike, and as it wound around the mountain, I was frequently treated to beautiful views and blue skies.

So here’s the photo of the week, from what felt like my first real hike of the year:

Somewhere near John's Creek Mountain Hike

Photo of the Week #6: Steak-frites!

Today finds me in a warm Panera Bread cafe, on a cold day in western Virginia. I’m here for a mini spring-break trip to visit my best friend, and last year around this time I was treated to sunny skies and 60-70 degree days. Just now, at 11am, it is 25 degrees. I’m not amused. No one is.

Last Saturday, however, was pretty beautiful. I was in DC visiting another friend, and at one point we sat on a bench with a view of the Capitol to our left, the Washington Monument to our right, and the warm sun on our faces. My photo(s) this week come from that trip- a weekend of good food, good coffee, good wine and good bread. And some art.

steak frites, le diplomate, washington dc

Steak-frites at Le Diplomate, a French restaurant in DC. As I took my first bite, I realized that this is a meal I’ve never actually had in France, and I promised myself that I would change that this summer, during the day I have in Paris at the end of my trip.

Union Market, Washington DC

A “gourmet” food hall with a stall selling some of the best bread I’ve had outside of France (there seemed to be an unintentional French theme to the weekend…)

Photo of the Week #5: Snow Walks and Green Bagels

Another photo of the week! This goes back to last Sunday (so… I guess that was the start of my ‘photo of the week’ week? I’m not really sure how I’m measuring these weeks, but I suppose it doesn’t matter too much).

I joined the Philadelphia Chapter of APOC (American Pilgrims on the Camino); I’ll write more about this in a future post, but for now I wanted to share a photo from the hike I joined them on last Sunday. It was the longest day of walking I’ve done since the Camino- 14 miles in about 6 hours, with a few stops and breaks in between. The first few miles were the most difficult, and required us to navigate through snow and over ice; not my ideal walking/hiking conditions…

APOC walk, snow

And, for a bonus photo… the best way I can think of to celebrate St Patrick’s Day (how did you celebrate?):

Green bagel!

Green bagel!

Photo of the Week #4: ┬íHola!

Lately, my days have been filled with working, walking, writing, and when I have a few extra minutes, reciting basic Spanish phrases. I started a beginner’s Spanish class a few weeks ago; it’s an adult evening class held at the local high school, and man, it’s a bit surreal to be back in a classroom trying to learn a language. It takes me back to those awful, early days of learning French (while I love being able to speak French, I did not love the years of struggle as I tried to learn it).

But this is a bit different. Last year, on the Camino, I told myself that if I ever returned to Spain for an extended period of time, I wanted to know a little Spanish. I’m not expecting that I’ll be able to carry a conversation or even understand much of what people say to me (in fact, I know I won’t be able to accomplish this in a few months), but I am hoping that I can learn some phrases and words that will help me out on the Camino. I knew next to no Spanish while walking the Camino Frances, and resorted mostly to gesturing and smiling. And while I got by without much trouble, there were so many times that I wished I knew just a bit more. Or enough to show that I was making an effort trying to communicate in Spanish, rather than naturally resorting to English and hoping people would understand me.

So here’s my desk, my workbook, my notes. I should probably go do my homework now…

Spanish class

Photo of the Week #3: Blue skies and dragons

My week started with blue sky and ended with blue sky, but everything in between was gray and ice and rain and snow and cold. Sunshine makes all the difference, however, and I savored my time outside this week.

Once again, I have two photos to share: the first is from a Chinese New Year’s parade through the streets of my town, and the second is from a walk around my neighborhood. One photo is all about color and movement and noise; the other is stark contrast and stillness and quiet.

A note about the second photo: I’m amazed that this was taken with my iPhone, with no enhancements, no filters, no editing. I looked up at the trees and the sky and held my phone out and snapped a photo and this is what you get. Sometimes, the world is indescribably majestic.

Chinese New Year ParadeWinter walk through my neighborhood

Photo of the Week #2: Winter Drive and Forced Fun

I didn’t take many photos this week, and this is typical for me in the winter. My days are largely spent indoors at work, and then indoors in my apartment. But I did get to break away for a few days to attend a conference in the middle of the state, and I was so happy on the drive there. It felt so good to be moving again, even if I wasn’t going very far. I drove through a hilly area and I started to get excited about the summer and about my plans to walk another Camino (still not definite, but very likely). I even saw a bald eagle, which I considered very good luck. Sometimes all it takes is to be in a new area and see a different view, to be reminded of all there is out there. I’m hoping to see lots of new views this summer.

So there are two photos for the week- one that I snapped during my drive to the conference, and one at the conference itself. The second one is just for fun: it was taken at the “ice cream social”, a night designed to allow conference participants let their hair down and relax. Mostly, it reminded me of a school dance: people lined up around the perimeter of the room, sticking close to their ‘friend groups’, not mingling, not dancing. After awhile, people started moving out to the dance floor when the DJ tossed out glow sticks, but overall it was a slightly bizarre experience. (The ice cream, on the other hand, was delicious).

Winter drive through PAIce Cream Social