Dec. 31 2018

2018 Retrospective

And now we come to the part of the year where we look back and review what we did. This year was big for me. It didn’t always seem big, especially over the last month as I’ve mostly been home, either nested up in my apartment with Rob or out doing work in the city. But, when I sat down here to write it all down, I realized: Holy crap, I did a lot in 12 months.

I saw a lot of places, I was on the road 135 out of 365 days this year—37% of the time. And I grew a lot in practical ways (like learning how to do my freelance taxes) as well as fun ways (I was on a Japanese reality TV show!).

Last year for Christmas my sister bought me a necklace with an embossed thistle on it. In words around the thistle, it says, ‘ye dinna ken what may betide ye yet,’ which is a Scottish way of saying: you have no clue what’s coming.

‘Sae bide ye yet, and bide ye yet, ye dinna ken what may betide ye yet’

Robbie Burns 1759 – 1796

And it’s true! I’ve heard people say the thought of not knowing what comes next scares them, but I think it’s oddly comforting.

You set your goals—that’s your personal mountain in the distance. You pack your bags, leave your house to set off for the mountain, and then you see what happens along the way.

As long as I know I’m on the road to my personal mountains, I find I can summon the patience to deal with whatever arises along the way.

It’s like a game of cards, you don’t take it personally whether you’re losing or winning, the real mark of pride is how you deal with the hand you’re dealt.

I got dealt a pretty good hand this year, but I’m also proud that I made the most of it. Good hand or bad hand, good road or bad road, how I dealt with my circumstances is really what I like to reflect on this time of year.

On Mel Had Tea

Blog posts published in 2018: 23

I kept up a semi-regular stream of posts this year. My ol’ ambition and the mountain is to be more regular with them and to stick to the editorial calendar I give myself. This year I’d like to assign myself more of what I enjoy writing—the fun stuff!—instead of the posts I know will do well, or posts that I feel obligated to write.

Most popular posts published this year: How to Become a Certified Tea Sommelier, How to Taste Tea Like a Tea Sommelier, WTF is FTGPOP? An Introduction to Tea Grading,  I’m Living on a Japanese Tea Farm, and An Insider’s Guide to Halifax.

The Year in Books

I read 24 books! For the last several years I’ve been aiming to try and read one book per week. This year, the same thing! I started strong in 2018, but lost momentum in the mid-stretch while I was travelling and freelancing so much. I tried to make it up over the holidays, but at some point, I had to tell myself to take it easy and spend more time with family and friends and to revisit the one book per week goal in 2019.

My end of year ‘Shelfie.’

Books I most enjoyed reading in 2018 were: ‘Pachinko,’ by Min Jin Lee, ‘Nudge’ by Richard H. Thaler, ‘The Best Kind of People’ by Zoe Whittall, ‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell, ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ by V.E. Schwab, ‘The Year of Less’ by Cait Flanders.

This year I’ll be starting with Haruki Murakami’s ‘Killing Commendatore’ that Rob got for me as a Christmas gift. After that, it’s on to a stockpile of Neil Gaiman that I’ve been building up.

Sidebar: I love following Neil Gaiman and his wife Amanda Palmer on Instagram. They make me smile, maybe they will work on you too:  @neilhimself and @amandapalmer.

The Year in Travel

All the weddings

The wedding bug bit hard this year. Weddings had us enjoying Canada from Toronto to London to our own Nova Scotian seaside. We had to decline a few weddings this year just because all the weddings and travel I had already planned were a big financial commitment for both Rob and I. We wish we could have gone to even more.

No wedding invitations so far for 2019, but we feel like this might just be the calm before another wedding storm in 2020.

Shooting for Project 1948 at UN Women in NYC

I was invited to New York for a week to cover Project 1948’s involvement at the U.N. Women annual summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York. This was really cool for me because not only did I get to listen to a bunch of inspirational speakers, and gain insight into how the U.N. works, but I also got to visit the Brooklyn Tea Festival and catch up with Project 1948. If you remember, they’re the ones I volunteered with through Photographers Without Borders in Bosnia a few years ago.

This was one of the first work trips I did after leaving my full-time agency job to go freelance, and it was super exciting for me, especially since I thought leaving my agency job might mean less work travel for a bit. Turns out – nope! I already have a work-related trips in development for 2019 as well.

Mini-Moon in Quebec City

I wanted to spend some quality vacation time with Rob before I left for Japan for three months (do I even need to say again how he’s the most amazing human ever?), so we spent a week together in Quebec City.

So beer. So satisfied. At La Barberie in Quebec City on a microbrew tour of Saint-Roch.

We drank amazing beers, and stuffed our faces with artisanal cheese, vegan lime pie, fine wine, and duck hearts.  At night we retreated to the Harry Potter-esque Chateau Frontenac, and had lots of long walks around town, and even a food adventure to the beautiful Île d’Orléans.

Tea farming in Japan

For three months I worked on a tea farm south of Kyoto in rural Japan. In the tea farming village of Wazuka, I learned so much about the Japanese tea industry, tea, and tea tourism. I met an international cast of characters and visitors who had made a tea pilgrimage to this small town and had a lot of fun leading tea tours for foreign guests. I even got to pull out my German once or twice.

Further Japan adventures in Kyoto and Tokyo

Weekend trips to Kyoto from Wazuka as well as extended Kyoto and Tokyo visits after my time at the tea farm was up let me explore Japan’s tea offerings further and also fuelled my daydreams for the next time I return to Japan.

Clutching our lucky prayers after firewalking on Anne’s birthday.

Honeymoon Road Trip in Iceland

After a whirlwind return, a couple weeks later my babe and I packed up our suitcases and headed on a red-eye flight to Reykjavik to kick off the two-week honeymoon drive around Iceland’s ring road that we’d been talking about since we got engaged in the summer of 2015.

So many waterfalls.

This was really one for the books. Not only did I affirm my choice in life partner when I got sick and Rob did everything from cooking to cleaning to making my tea for a stretch in the middle of our trip, but we had so much fun. Just being alone, being together, being off our cell phones and in a map in the middle of a beautiful island nation. Sure, it was freezing cold some nights, but that was all the better reason to cuddle together for warmth.

I was also really proud of the budget we did this on: less than $5,000 Canadian for everything. That’s less than $3,600 USD for American readers.

Christmas with Family in Pasadena, Newfoundland

A nice and quiet, relaxing end to the year. Rob’s family is from Labrador, but his sister and parents recently moved to Pasadena in Newfoundland, so we headed there for the holidays (we usually do one year with my family, one year with his family, back and forth), and enjoyed more food than our bellies could bear – included a double helping of the province’s famous Mary Brown’s fried chicken and taters. Plus enough gravy to sink a boat. All in all, a great time, and we got to spend some quality time with Rob’s two-year-old niece (she likes me for drawing pictures, but prefers Rob for playing Hungry Hungry Hippos).

Christmas morning snowfall in Pasadena, Newfoundland.

Ways I levelled up this year

5th Kyu Purple Belt

Shortly before leaving for Japan I earned my 5th kyu purple belt in Shotokan karate. I was hoping to find a dojo to train with while I was staying in Japan, but unfortunately, since I was living far out in the countryside, and the closest dojo was 1.5 hours away and had summer hours that didn’t jive with my tea farm work schedule, it couldn’t happen.

This year, I’m looking forward to continuing my training. Since people ask, this belt is about halfway between beginner and black belt. My sensei always says that your black belt is really just like your ‘B.A.’ in karate though – aka just the beginning. The even harder training comes after. I like to look at it like this. So, it’s kind of like I’m entering the third year of my karate B.A.

Japanese Exam

While in Japan I wrote (and passed!) the JLPT N5 Japanese test administered by the Japanese government. It’s the easiest of their five tests (N5-N1), but still, it’s 100% in Japanese, with no English, no dictionary, and I passed. That felt HUGE and honestly, I was so proud of myself for just being able to read all the questions on the test, nevermind answering them.

When I left the test, before I even knew how I did, I was so ecstatic and proud of myself. Especially considering my preparation for this was just my exchange semester in Japan six years ago (I can’t believe it was so long ago), and daily Duolingo practice over the past few months.

Boss Budgeting

This year I worked my Mom, Rob, and I all worked together to create a kickass personal budget for us as a couple that’s been working really well. Since we put that into place and have kept each other accountable with weekly check-ins in our accounting software, I feel like I have a better lock on my money this year than ever before. That makes me feel great and that my money is working for me, versus the other way around. It’s a very good thing.

My mom is great at accounting and has also helped me get my freelance taxes in order for this year. In short: I am surrounded by great people like my Mom and partner who help me accomplish so much in life, like taxes and meal plans, and I am eternally grateful.

New Apartment

Rob and I moved to a new place this year where I now have my own office! At our old place, my office was also the laundry room/spare room/path to the washroom. I love my new office I love that I can close the door, and Rob put together this sweet IKEA built where I can stash all my teaware.

Most Unexpected Thing to Happen This Year

I was on the pilot episode of a Japanese reality tv show called ‘Today I Return to My Home Country.’ The series’ intent is to document the lives of foreigners living in Japan who are learning a skill to bring back and share in their home country.

Reiko, a freelance camerawoman hired by the network, followed me for two weeks while I was living in Wazuka, and then followed me back to Canada for a few more days of filming. All in all, my segment is about 20 minutes in the hour-long episode and includes me leading a class about Japanese Tea at World Tea House in Halifax.

It was definitely a surreal (and sometimes stressful) experience being followed by a cameraperson all the time (who only spoke Japanese), and an interesting learning experience on a number of levels.

I just got the DVD with a copy of the episode that aired in September from the T.V. station in Japan, so I’ll be sharing that and my experience filming it on the blog in early 2019.

My #TopNine on Instagram

Mostly I was surprised to see so many photos of my face. Thanks for all the support!

New Year’s Resolutions

Watch TV only on the weekends and holidays

Since getting home from our honeymoon I’ve kind of been in homebody mode. For me it’s so tempting after a long day of work to curl up after dinner with your partner for some Netflix and chill, but if I’m honest with myself I know it takes a lot of time out of my week, that I could put towards other goals that are more important to me right now (like reading more books).

If I only watch TV on the weekends and holidays, it will make me prioritize the shows I actually do want to watch and help me plan how many hours a week I am spending watching television, and help me be more mindful of my TV consumption.

Exceptions: There’s a couple channels I watch on YouTube that have weekly release schedules. I’m allowed to watch them as they come out. 

Register and run in a 5k

There was a stretch of a few years (2013-2016) where I registered and completed 5k and 10k races a couple times a year. I didn’t do any this year or last, being gone or busy or both. But running makes me feel good, I miss it, and I’m going to get back into it this year.

Onward to 2019!

There were lots of other memories made throughout the year. Little moments catching up with friends, going for a walk, or the pleasure of reading a story at home on the couch with a good tea and a persistent rain outside. Times quiet and loud alike. Victories celebrated in my family, and ways people I care about levelled up as well that are worth celebrating. Some of those were even more memorable than the big adventures along the way.

Thanks to all my friends, family, and all you readers who chime in, or just come to read who have spent time here over the year. I’d love to hear your highlights of 2018, or what made the year memorable for you. I look forward to seeing you all in 2019. Happy new year!


Hi Mel,

Beautiful writing, happy that i found this. I wish you all the best for 2019!

Thanks so much!

Hi Mel- I enjoyed your writing and book suggestions too! We are travelling to Vancouver BC/Japan in April and I made a mental note to try tea outside Kinkaku-ji. 🙂

That’s wonderful Sherry! April is a beautiful time of year to travel to Japan. If you have a chance, I also highly recommend Ippodo in Kyoto (or Tokyo) for an authentic Japanese tea shop experience!

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