Dec. 31 2019

2019 Retrospective

Sitting down to write this it feels like I was just writing my retrospective for 2018, and at the same time, some of the events at the beginning of this year feel like they happened ages ago. Time’s a funny thing.

While lots of amazing things happened this year, looking back I’m most pleased with the balance between personal and professional goals. Compared to last year when I spent 135 days on the road, there was a lot more time spent hanging out with friends and fostering personal connections. We also bought a house and I moved into a new job. I took an unplanned sabbatical from working on the blog because I wasn’t happy with how things were going and I wanted to think about just what I wanted from this space. But more on that below:

In Travel

First off—after being on the road a little over a third of 2018, I wasn’t sure I’d end up travelling as much in 2019. But despite everything, there was still quite a bit of personal and work-related travel. While I’ve always been a frequent and confident solo traveller, I ended up taking more trips with good friends this year and I think it did me a world of good. There’s something about taking trips with good buddies that lends a different flavour to the mix, and it’s what I really needed this year.

A Cabin in the Woods, Canning, Nova Scotia

For the August long weekend, Rob and I stayed at a cozy cabin in the woods just outside Canning in the valley region of Nova Scotia. In between waterfalls, hikes and drone explorations of the area, we played cards, chilled out, cooked a lot of bacon, filled the wood shavings outhouse with lavender spray and chilled the fuck out.

This trip also contained my third voyage of the year to The Noodle Guy restaurant in Port Williams.

The Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia

I ended up travelling to Cape Breton unexpectedly multiple times this year for work and play. Rob and I did a camping trip around the Cabot Trail in June, then in September we went with friends and hiked to Pollett’s Cove for an overnight camp on a beach filled with wild horses. I came back to the highland a third time in October to shoot an engagement session along the Skyline Trail, just in time to catch the last of the fall colours.

Kissimmee, Florida

In April I spent a blessed few days in this nostalgic warm paradise while shooting social content for a client. I’ve been coming here literally since I was a kid and the world around the theme parks is such a bubble world. Even when you’re hanging out in the surrounding towns like Celebration, it’s as if you’re in an ’80s American movie version of a town—all pastel colours and thirty different ice cream flavours. You know that feeling when you’re in a dream, but you know you’re in a dream? It’s like that.

Saint John and Fundy National Park, New Brunswick

After visiting Saint John to see and photograph our friend’s artist residency, we explored downtown and then headed into the woods of Fundy National Park for some hikes.

New York, New York

I was here for the Adobe 99u Conference, but honestly, my highlights were revisiting the Strand bookstore and Momofuku for noodles, then staying over in Brooklyn where I made friends with this turtle.

Also I had my Ssam Sauce from Momofuku confiscated by security at LaGuardia. Contender for saddest travel moment of the year.

Paris, France

In another surprise trip, Rob and I decided to make his two-day work training trip to Paris into a full-week vacation, and it was the smartest travel decision we’ve possibly ever done. Tying it into his work trip made it extremely affordable, and because we went in late November, the city was already dressed for the holidays, getting us into the spirit of the season earlier than usual.

Our highlights included:

  • Walking around the Tuileries Christmas markets while eating French comfort food like dripping raclette cheese on baguettes, gooey tartiflette with reblochon cheese, steaming potatoes and chewy lardons.
  • Visiting the Shakespeare and Co bookstore around the corner from the post-fire under-construction Notre Dame.
  • Walking up the hills of Montmarte and creeping our way up the narrow Sacre-Coeur basilica towers for the view.
  • Buying so many Japanese pens at multiple Muji stores.
  • Going to the cinema at Les Halles after browsing the Christmas markets.
  • Drinking hot wine (“It’s not a day in Paris without a vin chaud!” was my trip catchphrase.
  • Visiting the Mariage Freres tea shop and museum and tasting high tea treats.

Our favourite experience was the mind-blowing Tolkien exhibit, ‘Voyage en Terre du Milieu’ at the national library featuring beautiful curation of many of Tolkien’s original manuscripts, drawings, and maps expertly paired with art and artifacts of his contemporaries. I just happened to see a poster for it on the subway one day after we arrived and it was our favourite experience on the trip.

Prince Edward Island Road Trip

In the summer I did a long weekend road trip from Halifax to Charlottetown PEI with my buddy Lauren Marinigh from Twirl the Globe. In between face-fulls of lobster rolls, craft beer, baby goats, and red-haired wigs, we roved the potato-filled island.

Upon our return to Halifax, I took her to Bar Kismet, which after reflection and a handful of meals here this year, is still my favourite restaurant in Halifax. Get the tuna tartare, a cocktail of their recommendation, and whatever the seasonal desert is. You can’t go wrong. Unless you hate fish, then don’t go here.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

The highlight of my wedding season this year was a destination wedding in Playa del Carmen in Mexico. With elements from both Western and Hindu wedding traditions, this was a whirlwind three days. When I had some downtown from my photographer responsibilities, I spent some time around the pool and exploring the area.

Porter’s Lake Camping, Nova Scotia

This was a much-needed girls’ weekend of camping with all my best female pals right before I left my old agency and moved into my new role. We set up our tents in the rain, made an epic tarp setup, coaxed a fire into existence without firestarters, kept up a steady stream of canned gin and beer, made campfire nachos and panfuls of bacon while decompressing from the creative agency lifestyle.

During this time I knew I’d be moving on from the agency, and it was great to spend quality time with people who I’d been working side-by-side with on a daily basis and who I’d miss once I moved on.

Road Trip to Portland, Maine

In the spring we packed up Gidget, Sophie’s reliable ride, and hit the highway from Halifax to Portland, Maine. Here we discovered the bounty of Trader Joe’s, Chick-fil-A, the amazing discount sweaters of L.L. Bean outlet stores, coastal rugged nature, Stephen King’s house, and an inflatable lobster so irresistible that Soph doubled back to buy it on the way home. Was it the giant lobster or the trunkful of Maine microbrew that got us stopped at the US-Canada border on the way home? I will never know.

While in Portland we stayed at the Black Elephant Hostel, feasted on oysters at Eventide, and downed milkshakes and frites at Duckfat.

River John, Nova Scotia

A visit to a friend’s cottage gave the ol’ gang a chance to be together, drink beers, and eat barbecue. I also may have attempted my own version of ‘Planet Earth’ by attempting to drone over some nearby seals.

Toronto

It feels like years ago, but in January I did make a stop into Toronto for a few days to be a tea sommelier at a Shoppers Drug Mart skincare event. After, I had time to get delicious green curry (the best curry – fight me) and catch up with friends at Khao San Road.

Wolfville, Nova Scotia in Summer and Fall

Like the Cape Breton highlands, Wolfville is somewhere I found myself returning to again and again this year. I went several times for work photoshoots, then back with friends in July for tubing on the Gaspereau River, and over Thanksgiving weekend with more friends for a tour of Wolfville’s generous wine country (Lightfoot and Wolfville is currently my favourite), then again in later October for the Devour Food & Film fest, where I participated in a foraging and filmmaking workshop. Nearly every trip was also accompanied by a trip to Church Brewing—the ploughman’s lunch platter is my recommendation. Charcuterie should be its own food group.

In Books

This year I finished 43 books, which is on par with my previous best year of reading (2017—also 43 books).

Next year I’m setting my sights on 60 books read to remind myself to keep up with this hobby more throughout the year. When I haven’t read for a while I always forget how much pleasure I get from it and how much it helps my writing and storytelling.

  • Favourite Fiction: Circe by Madeline Miller, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
  • Favourite Non-Fiction: Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

Personal Growth

We Bought a House!

It still seems pretty crazy to me that we managed this and I’m grateful that we live in a province like Nova Scotia where a young millennial couple working in the creative industries can actually afford to buy a home.

My hot take on buying a house:

  • I like it a lot more than I thought I would
  • It’s nice that our mortgage is going towards something instead of throwing away rent every month
  • Turning our basement suite into an AirBnB was a really.smart.move.

Shortly after we moved in, we also had the pleasure of helping a couple of our longtime BFFs move in just up the road! It felt like my childhood dream of having all my friends live on the same street was coming true.

Group Hangouts

I’ve been looking for more regular group activities to do with friends. So I have one group that meets once a week for Dungeons & Dragons, which I started playing this year and is stupid fun (Rob DMs, I’m a human boy warlock, we’re currently playing a tricked out version of Ghosts of Saltmarsh. Don’t spoiler anything for me).

I meet semi-monthly with another group of female artist friends and we do food nights with documentaries featuring female artists. Everyone brings something to contribute to the meal and we then eat a great meal and rage against the patriarchy while watching said films. So far we’ve done Frida Kahlo and personal pizzas, Yayoi Kusama and sushi, Georgia O’Keefe with tacos, and crepes with Louise Bourgeois. I’m taking recommendations for other documentaries featuring female-identifying artists.

Plus lots of brunches with cuties like this at Cafe Good Luck.

Planet Earth

On Earth Day I bought a travel mug and have actually kept up with using it all year and therefore cut down on my disposable cup usage to almost none. So that feels good.

In Career

Digital Content Creator with NSCC

In the career dome! I started a new job this summer with the Nova Scotia Community College. NSCC was actually a client of mine at the agency I worked at before (my favourite client, in fact). So when the opportunity came to work for them full-time, in a role that was more what I wanted (more content creation and photography/videography), for an organization with a vision and mission I believed in, it was an easy sidestep for me to transition into that role.

Now that I’ve been here for almost six months, I can’t believe my luck and timing at landing this role.

Not only has it been personally and professionally fulfilling, but the college has been a dream to work for. I’ve never felt so respected as a human being by an employer. The community truly comes first here.

NSCC’s mission is to build Nova Scotia’s economy and quality of life through education and innovation.

Nova Scotia Community College Mission Statement

Through my work, I’ve had the opportunity to learn to pilot a drone and get my Advanced Drone Pilot’s license from Transport Canada. Covering stories for the college has also taken me all across the province, and I’m really proud of the storytelling work we’re doing, as well as our goals and aspirations.

Speaking and Workshops

I had several opportunities to present this year. I spoke to the PR class at NSCC about agency life and burnout, as well as the NSCC Professional Photography class on two occasions about creative briefs and self-employment finances.

At the beginning of the year, I travelled up to the Schwartz Women in Business conference in Antigonish with my pal Sacha Stephan (who also did the beautiful new brand illustrations on my site—pretty swank, eh?) to talk about creating yourself and networking on the Internet. I love this trip because it was near the start of our friendship and she’s just come to be a pal I value so much this year. In fact, we just had coffee this morning!

I also had the opportunity to present a Tea 101 talk to my NSCC colleagues during an offsite team building day. It was great to be able to share this passion with them, and let me be a tea nerd while on the job.

On the Blog

I took this year off from blogging for the most part in order to do some thinking about myself and the Internet, and about what my relationship with this blog is. In the early part of this year, I felt less and less the urge to blog. This was brought on by a few things:

  • I was bored of writing search engine optimized, formulaic bog posts based on conquering a niche, which is the advice that just about every professional blogger has ever given me and a side-effect working in content marketing for so long.
  • In addition to this blog, I’d also been doing the same kind of ghost-writing for other tea brands and sites and I was just tired of it.
  • I was tired of the social media rat race and craved more human-to-human, face-to-face interactions.
  • I realized I didn’t need to monetize my blog because I already have a good creative career that provides me a steady income.
  • I needed to figure out what I was doing here—if I wasn’t interested in creating a niche-conquering blog, then what did I want to do? Did I want to keep blogging at all? To what end?

This year I was also a finalist for the ‘Best Tea Blog’ award at World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, which while humbling and an honour, also added to my imposter syndrome and made me wonder if I should just keep tea-blogging even though the thought of doing another tea review or listicle made my heart droop. Not because I don’t like reading tea reviews (I enjoy reading other people’s), but because it’s not what I wanted to do with my writing.

And so, I took an unintentional sabbatical to do some thinking about this.

Jia Tolentino’s ‘Trick Mirror’ was great reading during this time and gave me a lot of brain food to chew on when it comes to thinking about creating on the internet. Her writing and thinking about the pressure to commoditize and brand every second of our spare time was huge for me. Instead of the blog being a place to share and work on my creative writing, it had become a place that represented work, efficiency, the need to produce, and writing that should have been personal ended up looking more like product posts.

Because the thing about me is that even though I love tea itself, what I love more is what tea represents—the connection to terroir and place, the relationships, the tradition, the history, the culture, the meeting a new person while your tea steeps in the background, the time for reflection and self-meditation. I like writing with tea in the background, people in the foreground.

I knew I didn’t give a crap about content that served a search engine. I was never going to be an old lady with a grandchild at my knee, pulling up an old listicle I had written and reminiscing of ‘the good days’ with them in any meaningful way.

That kind of writing might as well come from content farms. That’s the kind of writing you only do because you have to – because you’re under a deadline and you’re churning it out. So why the hell was that the kind of writing that I found myself doing in my spare time?

I mean, a lot of people create blogs with a very specific intent to service others. They provide useful and actionable content, they conquer their niches, and I think that’s very noble. But I think I need this to be a little bit more about me, you know?

When you lose interest in your own work—that’s a great time to check yourself.

So through thinking and writing and reading, it emerged for me that the way for this blog to be meaningful for me is if it becomes a little less niche-focused and a little more story-focused.

More of a record or a journal—a kind of digital personal legacy. Stuff I’d actually want to share with my imaginary kids or the people I care about. Stuff I care about. Stories. Not the whims of search engines.

When I started out blogging, it was more of a journal than anything. I had excitement for it, and lust for the community I found myself building.

This year instead of publishing I spent a lot of time writing for myself. In a way, it was a relief to be able to experience things and process them instead of feeling pressure to do-publish, do-publish, and on and on. It was a great exercise in freedom and for finding out what I actually cared about. What I write about when no one’s watching.

This year on the blog I’ll be working on publishing some of that edited writing, thoughts, and photo essays. Through this, I want to focus on meaningful storytelling and hopefully work my way back towards where I can recognize myself again on the Internet and build community in a way that means something to me that still serves you guys, the readers.

So This Has Been My Year!

Honestly, thanks for tuning in. For catching up over tea. Thanks for being a pal, and thanks for reading. I hope this year your cup runneth over.


Q: Have you ever taken a much-needed break from something?

ADD A COMMENT

Your 2019 sounds like it was steller– the good food, the good company, the adventure! And congratulations on the new house! My husband and I bought a house a few years ago, and I constantly feel like I’m fighting it instead of falling in love with it. I’m determined to make it my own this year, into a place I love to be.

I took a much-needed break from blogging, recently. I was in a niche that I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore. I’ve resurfaced recently, but I think I’m still trying to find the writing that makes me happy (and in a way, that kind of experimentation makes me happy?). I really like your notion of blogging your legacy and focusing more on storytelling though; I really look forward to what you publish this year 🙂

Thanks Jackie! It’s so nice to take a break sometimes, isn’t it? For me it’s also a nice reminder that if I stop blogging my internet doesn’t fall apart. And that itself can create some much-needed space. I love what you said about writing to find your happiness. Through writing I think it’s so true that we sort out our feelings, and also find the kind of writing work that satisfies our souls. Best wishes for your writing experiments this year, and a happy 2020!

First, it was so so nice to meet you this year – sorry I was one of those people giving you advice to write for SEO! 😉 It looks like you had an amazing year and a well deserved break – and your photography is totally stunning so I’m excited to see more of that even if you’re not writing for the Google machine.

Valerie! It was such a pleasure to meet YOU this year. I love following along your saga of becoming a new houseboat owner. I have fond memories of Sausalito and it’s so cool to reexperience that part of the community through you. You gave me very good advice! I think I was just asking the wrong questions and still struggling and figuring out what I wanted to do. And everything you said about SEO is very true. I’m still in awe of your spreadsheets, haha. Congratulations yourself on an amazing year and the publication of Dark Skies! Such a unique and amazing lens through which to travel. My Mom recently came back from a trip to Arizona and was describing her experience of the endless skies out there. I thought of you! Happy New Year and lots of best wishes for 2020.

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