Guys. This was a big year for me. So big in fact, that it’s taken me a month to catch my breath and sit down to record it all here.
What Happened in 2017?
My word for 2017 would be ‘overcommitted’ (to everything except Rob—you da best, babe!). In March of last year I started a full-time job as a Content Marketing Manager at an a award-winning creative agency in the travel marketing space. My days (and sometimes nights, weekends, etc.) were filled with an engaging and demanding job.
And while I loved it and am grateful for all the cool opportunities it gave me—like getting to travel to Florida and New York, working with an amazing team, writing like a boss every day, designing campaigns with Medieval Times, Adventurous Kate, Instagram’s Sexiest and Most-Followed Doctor—Dr. Mike, and even meeting a sloth… I always knew my goal was to be working for myself and back on the road again.
So, literally yesterday, I left my agency job, and have taken up the freelance torch again.
I let them know at the beginning of January I’d be leaving at the end of the month. I’m not a jerk and there’s definitely a right way to leave your job, which includes giving lots of notice and tying up projects as best possible to hand them off before you leave.
Sometimes my coworkers are knights! One of my favourite work memories thus far has gotta be telling four Medieval Times knights to jump on the Staten Island Ferry, and then watch gleefully as they broke out into an a capella version of ‘A Whole New World,’ totally unprovoked. My day job is working as a content marketing manager/copywriter/do-whatever-needs-to-be-done for @verbinteractive, but is it even work if you’re having this much fun? I mean, there are swords involved…
Things you need to know: 1) YES. The alligator is real. 2) If this gator moves, I am going to yell very inappropriate things… 3) This gator is leucistic! Super-rare, blue-eyed white gators. Only 12 exist in the world and @gatorland_orlando has three. Their names are Ferris Zombi, Trezo Je, and Jeyankwok, 3) If anyone makes a blue-eyes white dragon joke, they get a high five in the comments.
(No, it was not fun, but I signed up for it and I was committed to it, so I did it.)
So, while my days were filled with agency work, my evening and weekends were filled with creative writing projects, photo shoots, and all other manner of freelance-ness.
One healthy thing I did was go to karate twice a week all year, and for that I grant myself exactly ten high-fives. Guys—I’m a green belt now! Taking up karate was hands-down the best thing I did for myself health-wise this year. I practice at ISKF Halifax and am a huge fan of the teachers and program. The dojo is at the University of King’s College and in the summer we practice outside in the grassy quad area. It’s a hugely positive thing in my life, and I love it.
Another thing I tried to keep going was nightly chill-out-and-relax baths. Bath time is also reading time! I managed to read 43 books this year, which is the closest I’ve gotten yet to my goal of 52.
What I’m trying to say guys is: Sorry. I haven’t been here as much as I’ve wanted to be in the last couple of months. I would listen to these podcasts by super entrepreneurs who were like: “I wake up at 5:30 a.m. to work on my blog before work!” to which I’d say, “Yeah, man. I’ll try that!” but guys, I tried it, and IT TURNS OUT that 5:30 a.m. is just not my creative sweet spot. I could not make it work. I stared full-on zombie-like at my computer for many mornings before I decided that was not my way to blogging glory.
Now, in my 2018 year of killing it, I’ve set aside time in my working schedule that I can dedicate to this blog which I’m very excited about, and I’ve told Rob that I’m going to focus my evenings for friends and family time again (oh, haha, I shall try).
Were was I? Oh yeah—2017.
Master’s of Journalism = Complete!
Yes! I did this crazy thing where I completed the Master’s of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax with a specialty in entrepreneurship. That means I took classes alongside MBA students, can tell you all about lean canvases and startups, and why most journalism business models are failing.
I analyzed many businesses, did case studies on what makes a good investment, and even created a business plan for my blog which I then pitched to a panel of investors (nerve-wracking, but worth it and totally awesome).
Other than all the great research tools, friends, and connections I made, the business-facing aspect of the program made me really audit my blog and my goals and made me look at things from a sustainability standpoint. If I want this blog to grow—what do I need to do to make that happen? I learned that I really like business and entrepreneurship. My blog’s pitch to the investors even won an award from King’s. That was pretty cool.
Special shout outs to Kelly Toughill at Polestar, Christine Oreskovich at The Coast, and Don Sedgwick at somewhere-on-the-south-shore for really going above and beyond in their coaching and guidance, and not thinking this tea thing is too weird.
I also got used to not being embarrassed while saying, “Yeah, I want to be like Anthony Bourdain, but for tea.” (Thanks, Don.)
Certified Tea Sommelier with the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada—that’s me!
After years of training—I started in March 2015—I finally registered for and passed my final exam. I’m a super nerdy, totally real Tea Sommelier. AND, not to brag, but to celebrate this accomplishment, I want to share that I passed my blind taste test with 100%.
I can not tell you how excited I was. There were nights of sniffing a bunch of wet leaves into my nose, clogging the kitchen drain (just ask Rob about it), wondering if I was going crazy… I never thought I’d be able to tell the difference between a Darjeeling black tea from India and an Assam black tea from India. When I started it just seemed too “darks arts” and not a real thing (have you ever watched wine sommeliers and been like ‘you’re not tasting notes of raspberry leaf and the underside of a damp log – I don’t believe you.’ This is how I used to feel about tea sommeliery). Yet here we are, fancy taste buds and all.
Five more high fives to myself.
We tied some knots!
Me and my awesome guy, number one support system, never-gonna-give-you-up-never-gonna-let-you-down, you-make-me-feel-like-a-natural-woman, best person ever, the Michelle to my Barack Obama—Robert Tracey—got married!
We got married in a yurt. With all the best people. Our only regret is that we can’t do it again. BECAUSE IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.
Overall it was a big year of ‘levelling up.’ New skills, new karate belts, new degrees, new marital status. And 2018? It’s not slowing down.
Baby, this year is gonna be great.
Where I’m Going in 2018
Twice, in fact. I’m headed there tomorrow for the Toronto Tea Festival which I’m very excited about. There are a bunch of Canadian tea bloggers like The Cup of Life that I’m looking forward to meeting. I’m also looking forward to eating my face off at Wvrst ‘Sausage Hall and Other Wonders’ and The White Brick Kitchen near Koreatown, plus making an attempt at getting into Pai, a casual Northern Thai restaurant that looks amazing (fingers crossed, but wherever we land we’ll have a good time), all with dear friends (who are admittedly even better than delicious foods, although both are enhanced by the other)
There’s also a Halifax-to-Toronto road trip we’re taking with friends later this month to see some more dear friends get married at Propeller Coffee Co., so I’m looking forward to getting up there again. I always say I know Tokyo better than Toronto, so it’ll be good to gain some more familiarity with my country’s biggest city.
If you know any good tea places in Toronto, let me know! I’d love to check them out.
Quebec City, Canada
A couple of years ago, in 2015, I went to the Women in Travel Summit in Boston, which was a super inspiring event for me. I met all kinds of awesome women I still keep in touch with today like Katie from Stories My Suitcase Could Tell, Steph and Megan from Why Wait to See the World, and Kate from Adventurous Kate. It also led to my getting accepted into Bloghouse Milwaukee where I met awesome Nova Scotian Cailin from Travel Yourself and a bunch of other inspiring female travel writers and vloggers. The whole thing was pretty mind-blowing at the time and made little Mel feel hope she could one day get paid to travel the world and take pictures. Those were the childhood-of-National-Geographic goals, goddamnit.
All this to say, I’ve come so far since then, and am so excited to go back to WITS in Quebec City this May. Also, Quebec is a beautiful city, full of food. I miss being in the province of Quebec (where Rob and I did our undergrads) and am very much looking forward to the cheap beer, and at least one late night poutine binge.
That’s right! I’m finally going back to Japan! From May until July I’ll be living in the small tea-farming town in the mountains near Kyoto and Nara in Japan. Wazuka has more than 800 years of tea-farming history, and its tea producing fields are regarded as some of the best in Japan, with many tea families in the area dedicated to making wonderful Japanese tea.
I am so honoured to have the opportunity to live and work on one of these farms during some of the busiest production months, and look forward to sharing with you everything I learn there about tea production, Japanese tea, and the tea farming lifestyle. I also want to try tea EVERYTHING.
Did you know you can get soba noodles made with green tea? They’re called chasoba. What about green tea ice cream? Green tea cookies? Green tea everything? I love Japanese tea. My heart is beating faster just writing this. I. am. A. Huge. Nerd.
It will also be a great opportunity for me to improve my Japanese. ですね。
Rural Japan is one of my favourite places, and I couldn’t be more excited to head to this off-the-beaten-track destination. The opportunity to create more Japan-based content for this blog also makes me hugely happy. If you didn’t know, I started this blog during a student exchange to Japan when I was doing my undergrad, and have been looking for a way to get back for another extended stay ever since.
My goal is to create more resources about different tea regions in different countries on Mel Had Tea, so if there’s anything—I mean, ANYTHING—that you’d like to know about tea in Japan, please let me know!
One of my childhood best friends is coming back to Halifax after a year abroad teaching English as a JET in Japan. When she gets back we’re going to go on a haunted road trip of our province, fuelled by our obsession with Buzzfeed Unsolved.
On THAT note. If you have any good haunted places in Nova Scotia (or maybe even the Maritime Provinces – it’s a pretty small area) please leave a comment! We won’t blame you if we’re never heard from again.
I simultaneously don’t believe in ghosts and am slightly terrified of this trip.
We’ve got more friends gettin’ married! On August 18th we’ll be back in Canada’s most populous province. This time, in London, Ontario. I… don’t think I’ve ever been there, nor do I particularly know what to do there! I’ll do some more research before I go, but hey, if you’ve got some ideas, please tell me what I should get up to. A quick Google search told me they even have a river called the ‘Thames River,’ NOT TO BE CONFUSED with the River Thames in London, England. Sneaky.
Ring Road, Iceland
To celebrate one year of marriage and take our belated honeymoon (!!!), Rob and I have bought plane tickets and booked two weeks off in September to drive Iceland’s Ring Road—that’s the highway that circles the island country.
One of our favourite things we ever did was our cross-country road trip from Halifax to Tofino in 2015, and all we’ve talked about since is when our next epic road trip is going to be. The plan is to get a 4×4 vehicle with some tenting supplies, and then just rock it out around that big, beautiful island. I’m having tiny photographer-gasms of excitement as we speak.
Goals for 2018
I’m really excited about this year, about putting lots of time into things that are meaningful for me, including my freelance practice. If you know anyone who wants copywriting, article writing, or photography work done, I just put together a new portfolio site at MelHattie.com to showcase some of my freelance work. I’d love it if you sent them my way!
Gahhh, I’m just so excited about this whole year.
Lots of love to all of you crazy dreamers out there. Shine on.
What are you chasing in 2018?