A Queen’s Heart in Dracula’s Home (overshadowed by the darkness)

We all know the infamous tale of the darkest creature of the night. The tale of Dracula is one that has inspired the heart and minds of thousands of creative souls. I’ve read the book several times and never failed to find something new to fall in love with. I’ve been guilty of writing my own vampire tales that wound up being more of an excuse to dive into the lore surrounding these intriguing creatures (more on that as we get closer to Halloween).

It is famously said that Dracula’s Castle was based on the real Castle Bran, nestled on a steep cliff wall in the countryside of Romania. I knew this when we started planning our trip to this beautiful country. We would be attending a friend’s wedding in a small town known as Campulung- a gorgeous place all on its own.

The view from our hotel in Campulung, Romania

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Bran was just over an hour away from Campulung. Naturally, the literary lover in me didn’t have any other choice but to follow the calling of her heart straight to the castle on the cliff.

First and foremost, although Castle Bran in nicknamed Dracula’s Castle, I will be the first to admit that the strings tying the two together are about as thin as a spider’s web. It is said that Bram Stoker may have used a picture of Castle Bran that he happened across in a book as his reference point for the castle in his twisted tale. All we have to go off of is a description: a castle situated on the edge of a high cliff with a river running below it, sittin in the area of Transylvania. While it does fit the bill, there isn’t much more to go off of.

It wasn’t until later that I discovered a story surrounding the castle that piqued my interest, a tale far stranger than that of a fictional creature of the night. I was enraptured with this tale because was a true one, and often it seems that fact is far stranger than fiction. The story I will now tell you concerns the heart of a long-dead Queen who once roamed the uneven halls of Castle Bran. In fact, you could easily claim that she breathed fresh life into the place- and left her heart behind.

Queen Marie of Romania was given Castle Bran on December 1st, 1920. The castle, built progressively through the 1200s through the 1300s, was in bad shape when it came into her possession. But the Queen felt a tug in her heart for the old place. For a decade she set about the task of remodeling and improving the fortress. She even discovered secrets that had long been lost to history, such as the hidden staircase that was locked behind a fireplace.

She fell in love with the castle, spending many of her summers within it’s slightly crooked walls- a charming feature she refused to let the architects change during the restoration. She opted to emphasize it’s original beauty without forcing it into the ‘modern’ standards. But the Queen’s devotion went far deeper than many would expect.

Upon her death in 1938 her final Will was read. The Queen bequeathed the castle to her daughter because she said thar ‘only someone who understood the castle’s heart should possess it.’ But she did have one other request. Queen Marie asked that her own heart be removed from her earthly remains and laid to rest in the castle she so deeply loved.

In an attempt to see to these wishes, her heart was removed and placed in a small silver box, which was then encased in a gold one. For a while the box lay in Stella Maris Chapel until it could be moved to Bran in 1940. Originally the box was placed in the woods outside the castle, near the little wooden church. Her daughter eventually moved it into a carved niche inside the solid rock of the cliffside. A simple marker was placed so that others could show their respect for the Queen, seek her comforts and ask for her advice. The Queen was able to rest peacefully there for a time.

Yet, as so many stories do, this one takes a darker twist. If you ever decide to visit this beautiful country you will see the damage wrought by the communist regime who held power for a number of years in the region. If you speak to the locals they will tell you tales of their own time spent as children starving, attempting to survive off of ration cards. You will see cows and chickens roaming the streets and you will understand why. They will tell you tales of their beautiful architecture and history- demolished for ugly and unimaginative communist structures. You will note these differences as you drive through the towns and villages. The Queen’s heart was but one of the disrespected and ill-used artifacts of a proud history.

When the marker commemorating her heart’s resting place was desecrated, it was moved for safekeeping. For years it was locked away in the basement of a museum in Bucharest. There was an outcry, but one that was not heeded for many years. It wasn’t until 2015 that an announcement was made: Queen Marie’s heart would be moved, but not back to Bran. No, it would never find it’s way back to those hallowed halls to once beat for. Instead it would be respectfully held in Pelisor Castle, the place where the Queen breathed her last. By many this was considered a victory, and far better than the dusty museum cellar she had been left in. I can help but wonder if her spirit stayed behind in the true home she so dearly loved.

When you step up to Bran Castle you will see an impressive sight; this grand creation perched on the very edge of a cliff. You may walk through the halls and feel a bit underwhelmed. You were fed tales of Dracula and darkness; and yet this is a far cry from that. You will peek into the Queen’s chambers and know nothing about her, enjoy climbing the secret steps she discovered. You will walk away and never know the hidden tale of a lost Queen’s heart. You will stare into the trees and picture things that go bump in the night, not small gold caskets that glint in the moonlight.

You will leave this place thinking it represents darkness and death, when its true legacy is one of love. Queen Marie believed in the life of this place, she believed in the soul and the heart of the castle. Perhaps the story here is far better than any fright you could give yourself. Do not forget the tale of the Queen who so openly loved a place that she truly gave her heart to it.

The Lost Wanderer

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

Tolkien is perhaps my patron saint of travel; the one whose quotes about adventures and struggles through the unknown have carved my view of what the world should look like. I’ve always felt a bit of a kinship with the hobbits; we are both quite fond of our routine, adore second breakfast and elevensies, don’t really come of age until our 30s, and are generally shy but capable of courage when the need arises. I couldn’t help but think of dear little Bilbo when I stepped out of my door two weeks ago, backpack slung over my shoulder and passport clutched in my palm. I had never even made it 1,000 miles from home (the distance between my town and Disneyland is somewhere in the 900 miles range), I’d only ever set foot in 4 states- and 2 of those don’t really count because I live right on the border between them. Now my little band of adventurers and I would find ourselves over 6,400 miles from home, covering over 13,000 miles in our quest for excitement. Little did I know, I would come back a very different little hobbit than I had been when I left.

Tolkien famously said that not all who wander are lost. Truthfully, I think my roaming came about because I felt truly lost in all the ways that mattered, and shackled to all of the things that didn’t. It is no secret that this past year was a rough one for me; my first pregnancy loss in January left me shattered and unsure of how to rebuild a life with the broken pieces left to me. I struggled with the things that normally brought me solace and joy. I had once been so sure of my place in this world and the future I had planned was crystal clear. But then the Earth shook, the crystals shattered and cascaded around me, crunching under the soles of my shoes. I was lost, unsure if my feet would ever set foot on the path I had taken for granted. Where do you go when the road is washed away by an avalanche? You wander, you blaze a new trail and see where it takes you. Mine took me halfway across the world to a places with new customs, accents and languages. It took me to a life I could still find fulfilling, even if it wasn’t the one I had envisioned. It took me to a place where I learned to depend on myself, and not rest on my own expectations. It’s easy to lose track of what inspires you when you stare at the same four walls, and traipse through the exact same routine day after day. In Europe I rediscovered my passions. I stepped into castles where kings and queens once walked, ambled through the streets and pubs that famous authors and artists once frequented. I saw the place where Lady Grey and Ann Boleyn were murdered (though history prefers to call them executions).

The memorial for the ladies executed in the Tower of London

In Westminster Abby I stood in Poet’s Corner over the final resting places of the great authors that still inspire my love of words. I stood in awe as I stared at the Rosetta Stone behind it’s glass case, and walked through exhibits of our histories and storytelling traditions that paved the way for writers like myself.

In Oxford I stood in the gardens that inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I walked down the street that is said to have led to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe. And ornate door with a carved lion on the front with two golden fawns accenting either side of the door. You can look down the street to see the single lamp post that signifies the entrance to Narnia. We walked past the Eagle and Child pub that was once the meeting place for the writing group, the Inklings. Some of it’s members included Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and many others. For Harry Potter fans, Oxford has ties to the movie franchise (though there are few literary connections). In a less literary (though just as inspiring vein), we even got to see Einstein’s chalkboard preserved with his own handwriting, tucked away in the basement of a science hall.

After a week in the UK we found ourselves in Romania. There is nothing more humbling than finding yourself immersed in a country that doesn’t speak your language. The impacts of communism were brutally apparent, and many people can still remember the revolution that led to it’s overthrow in 1989. You listen to the stories of the food cards and starvation, desperate times that led to people literally fleeing across the border for a better life. Perhaps listening to these stories would give some of my own countrymen a bit more compassion with the issues we are facing. Look into someone’s eyes when they talk about being imprisoned for traveling illegally to another country to survive, observe the desperation that caused them to leave behind everything they ever knew. Drive through the countryside where people grow their own crops and livestock because they don’t trust that there will be enough food in the stores. The lives that we all live are stories of their own, we are each the protagonist in our own tale.

We attended a traditional wedding that carries on for an entire day (the celebrations often last well over 12 hours, which is a big change from the traditional 3 days they once were). It is amazing to see the cultural differences in the traditions observed. No wedding is complete without a bridal kidnapping and ransom for her return, traditional dances that everyone learns from a young age, fog machines and sparklers that are taller than I am.

In Romania we carried on with our unofficial literary tour by roaming the halls of Castle Bran, the supposed home to Bram Stoker’s infamous Dracula.

The ‘secret staircase’ hidden in Castle Bran, once lost to history until a Queen decided to remove a fireplace and discovered this secret passageway.

We ate lunch on the back terrace of the home where Vlad the Impaler was born. The village was called Sighisoura, and thr old protion has changed very little since the 1500s, though it is still a very active city. People continue to live in the same homes that were occupied hundreds of years ago. We saw firsthand how Vlad’s story is told in a very different way within his country. While we view him as brutal and cruel, he is a hero to his country, a leader willing to fight for his people.

Statue of Vlad the Impaler in Sighisoura, the city of his birthplace. The ribbon tied around it is in the colors of his country’s flag
The house where Vlad the Impaler was born
The streets of old Sighisoura; unchanged with the exception of vehicular traffic (though it is still very common to see horses and buggies through the entire country)

It is a moving experience to see the world as others do, to experience cultures foreign to your own and acknowledge that you are the outsider in this beautiful place. It is compelling to see what humans have created throughout this world; the buildings, traditions, stories, and art we have brought into existence. Our art sustains us throughout history, leaving it’s mark for centuries to come. Though we may not always understand it (like the mysteries surrounding the Stonehenge), it will be there to be witnessed for ages. To walk through the halls of our past and pay homage to the lives that led to our own; this is a gift.

I stepped back through the same door to my home that I lad left from, backpack still slung over my shoulder, passport clutched in my palm. Yet, much like Bilbo after his return from the Misty Mountains, I was changed. My heart carried adventures, my mind held new stories yet to be told, my soul was lighter knowing I belonged to a greater human tradition. My home is still the same, the laundry I left unfolded is still sitting at the foot of my bed, my dog is still stretched out with his head on my lap, and I am still here clacking away at a keyboard. But I am not who I was. This lost little wanderer is finding her way back home.

More detailed posts about the different adventures from my travels will be coming in the next weeks, this was merely a tiny little glimpse. If there are any particular topics you are interested in, leave a comment and I will be sure to include it. Happy trails, my friends.

To Create, To Experience, To Live

You are a creative soul; that’s why you are here, that is how you found this tiny little hobbit hole in the great expanse of the internet. You dare to dream in the middle of the day, you find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. You, my friend, are a kindred spirit. You can see shades of the world that others cannot or will not acknowledge. You have a flame that burns inside of you; some days it is just an ember, and on others it roars with a passion that could rival all the stars in the universe. Your work is your physical soul molded by your own hands. You tirelessly give your energy to this creation without realizing the magic you are wielding. There is a beauty in the way you bring something tangible to life, something that was born from the firing neurons and synapses in your brain. You have a passion that demands to be explored, a gift that the world would be priveledged to experience.

Art takes many forms, some are more subtle than others. We are all artists to a degree. The writers, the painters, the musicians, the actors; yes, these are easily counted. But there are others: a chef who plays with the ingredients, a mechanic bringing an engine to life, a mathematician calculating the mysteries of the universe, a lawyer crafting an argument that turns the law on it’s head. Our mediums may be different, but our love is the same. The things that we give life to in this world are often the same things that also give life to us.

To make lasting art you must step outside of your comfortable corners. To breathe life into your work you must first soak up as much of it as you can. Your new knowledge will color your creations, bleeding into the corners, etching the nuanced edges until they gleam and entice the rest of the world. An art piece bursting with life is a piece that demands to be witnessed, it is a creation that carries within it the power to change the world. To invest in your work you must first invest in yourself. It doesn’t matter how perfectly crafted your sentences are if they drop lifelessly from your pen. Interesting things do not need a perfect presentation to be noticed.

Invest in yourself, in your experiences, in your knowledge. Let your interests guide you and teach you. Pick something that you love; a place you want to travel to, a book you want to read, a skill you want to learn- and dive into it. Find a class for tarot reading, go to the post office and get your passport, find your way to the nearest museum, watch a documentary on the Stone Henge and UFO conspiracy theories, go to a Chinese New Year celebration even if you don’t know a soul there, read books about people that inspire you. Never stop learning, never stop investing in yourself, never stop feeding your passions. All of these tiny things, these new experiences, these tidbits of random knowledge will find a way into your heart, your mind, and your work. They will create an authentic story, they will grant you a new perspective that you can share with the world.

You will create something beautiful, something that will resonate with people. You may not change the whole world, but you will have the power to change a single person. You will have the power to inspire them. Your work will find it’s way into their own, over and over again until we find ourselves staring at a beautiful tapestry of the human experience. After all, that is what art is; it is passion, it is the spirit personified, it is an interwoven story of all of the things that have made us who we are. Be proud to be a part of this tradition, be proud of your contribution to it. Invest it in, nurture it, and never be afraid to dive headfirst into it.

Out of the Ashes (the growth of a seed)

When a forest is burned, what grows back often does not resemble what was lost. The searing flames cut away the old, they leave the soil barren and empty. But in this emptiness a miracle takes place; something new is given a chance to live. The seeds that had remained buried and dormant for so long are granted the space they need to struggle for the light. It may be months before you see them peek out from the wreckage, but they always emerge. Humans are more similar to the forests than we ever dare admit.
It is an inevitable reality that we all must walk through the flames; it is the price we pay to truly live. Often times the person who emerges from the fire is far different than the one who stepped into it. Six months ago I was shattered. I stumbled through my days wondering how the world could still turn even though it had cracked. And yet now, the first green sprouts are beginning to bloom.

There is pain in the loss, in the knowledge of what can no longer be. But there is a power too, when you realize that the worst has happened and you are still alive. You find a new purpose to fill your empty spaces, you pay tribute to the person you were before, and you learn to love the one you are rebuilding. It is not an easy process to grow a forest again on scorched land. It takes patience and kindness in a world that doesn’t always foster those two ideals.

When you find yourself lost in that barren landscape, one question echoes through the emptiness: what will you allow to grow in that broken place? This is the distinction between us and the forests we love- we get a choice to foster and cultivate what is left when the world changes us.

Give yourself permission to grow again, do not clutch the arid landscape of your life before. This is perhaps the hardest thing you will ever have to do; to acknowledge your pain and the way it has transformed you, to forgive, and to take the first steps towards healing. It will take time; all beautiful things do. But you are worth it, your journey is not done.

You have to feel it- everything, though there are days you may think you will break under the pressure of it all. The only way to grow is to let those rains wash over you. If you fight it, tuck it away, run from it- the pain will only make you hard and bitter to the world. But opening up to it will transform you.

Often those who have been through the worst that the world can offer are the ones who show the deepest kindness and compassion. These are the ones who will willingly step back into the flames carrying buckets of water to create a path for those still lost in the fire. These are the ones who took their broken pieces and patched them together with gold; they respect and acknowledge their damage, and are made all the more beautiful for it. Growth is not easy; it will be the greatest struggle of your life. But give yourself permission to do it anyway.

I struggled for a long time. It took me six months to realize that I was angry with myself for things I could not control. It took me half a year to acknowledge that I wasn’t willing to let myself heal, that I didn’t think I deserved it. I was carrying around so much grief, and I didn’t know what to do with it all. But you see, grief is really just love overflowing. I needed a place to put it. So I decided to start with me.

I sat down and wrote myself a letter. I acknowledged my pain, why I was so angry. And I forgave myself. I was finally ready to take that step. And then I did the thing that had scared for half a year: I gave myself permission to continue on with my life. I won’t say that I ‘let go’ of what happened or that I ‘moved on’ because I don’t think that’s always possible. I didn’t want to move on because that felt like forgetting; and that is something I won’t ever be okay with. But I acknowledged that these broken fragments are pieces of me that will always be here. I am a kinder person for them. The journey is only just beginning, and it takes effort every single day to keep growing, to show myself love and kindness, to remind myself that I deserve both. I was burned to the ground, but I survived; and now it is time embrace the girl who was strong enough to grow from the ashes.

I Carry Your Heart With Me (a story of love and loss)

Disclaimer: this post deals with miscarriage, so please proceed with caution if this is an issue close to your heart.

I had a dream about you. You were swaddled all in blue, though I still don’t know if you were a boy or a girl. Knowing me, you still could have been either (I already had a picture ready for your nursery that talked about how all colors were baby colors). The dream was so simple and so peaceful. We were at home, just our little family. You were fussy, but content when I finally fed you. I carried you, I held you, I cuddled up with you and gave you tiny little kisses all over your chubby cheeks. We were happy. I woke up feeling content as I rubbed my tiny bulging belly, saying good morning to you.

I don’t know if that is the moment that you left me. You slipped out of my life as quickly as you joined it, silently and without production. I like to think that it was your final gift to me- your way of letting me hold you for the first and last time, for the only time. A chance to look at you, live out the dreams we had been planning. I like to tell myself that you wanted me to have that solitary moment to remember, a single space in time when the world was the way it should be. I like to think that you wanted it too, that last little thought before you slipped away from me.

I learned that I lost you on Monday. The doctor looked at me and I just knew before she even said those words. You were gone, and there was nothing I could do to ever get you back. “There’s no heartbeat” are the cruelest words in the world. I’ve never known that kind of pain. I’ve never felt that kind of helplessness. I was not merely broken, not shattered; I was crushed down to dust.

A few hours before I was planning your gender reveal, I was plotting out your nursery and looking at cribs. I was excited for this life we were going to share together; you and me, partners in crime, your daddy and the dog hot on our little heels. It broke us both to lose you, to lose the future we had planned.

Some people may not understand the love you have for someone you have never seen, but it was earth-shattering from the start. From the moment I saw those two pink lines I loved you with every fiber of my being, every atom in my soul. I was yours and you were mine, my love. I didn’t need to see you or hold you to feel like your mother. Now I am in limbo- one foot in two different worlds. I feel like a mother because of you, and yet I have no living child to care for. Does it still count when my sweet little baby had to leave so soon? Does it matter that I know what it felt like to feel you under my skin? To talk to you? To watch my belly grow? Does it matter when I never got to hold you?

How can I feel so lost without you? You were a part of me for so long, and yet it was just a fleeting moment. You were supposed to be safe. We waited to tell everyone, waited to know you would be with us forever and always. We did everything we could. I was 19 weeks on the day when my world shattered, but it felt like eternity, it felt like we had been meant for each other since the dawn of time. We should have been safe. The chances of losing you were only 1-3%. ‘Bad luck’ is what what they chalk it up to. We just had bad luck. What a phrase at such a time. It was meant to comfort, but it only left me with more questions. Why us? Why you? Why now? What was the purpose in all of this? How do we move on with our lives knowing you won’t be in it?

You deserved better. You deserved a chance at this messy life. And I wish I could have given that to you. I wish it had been in my power to fix it. I would give the world to hear that whoosh-whoosh of your heartbeat again. I would give up my forever if it meant that you could come back and live the life you were supposed to have. I would do anything for you. But I am only mortal, and I will never know why someone so special and so perfect had to be taken before they ever had a chance.

Perhaps it’s better that you weren’t touched by this cruel world. Perhaps it’s enough to know how deeply loved you were already. You were our little Jelly Bean, the hope in a world so full of pain. You will always be ours, you will always be the little love of my life. I don’t know if I could ever survive this again, but I know that I would do it all one more time just to know you, just to have you growing in my tummy for a little while. I would feel this pain all over again if it meant another moment with you. You, my dearest little love, were worth every tear and every single crack in my heart.

To anyone out there who has been there or who may find yourself on this path, to all of those who struggle with fertility and wonder what your future will hold: I see you, I love you. I know you only feel like you are being strong because you don’t have any other choice, I know the anger and the fear and the pain. I know you don’t think you could ever survive this. But you will. There is a silent army standing right here with you. One in four women will know this pain, and virtually everyone will be touched by it at some point in their lives. You are not alone, even at your darkest moment.

I am the one in four. I will never forget my little love. None of us will.

Weeds and flowers (the dandelion is stronger than the rose)

We tend to demean the the things that harbor an inner strength we will never be able to touch. We look down on those who remind us that being broken does not mean being defeated, or that being unorthodox does not mean being unwanted. We sneer at the strength of those who do not bend to our will, those brave souls who will never allow the crashing waves to erode them. After all, a dandelion can grow through the cracks in the pavement, and yet we snidely call it a weed.

Did you know that the only difference between a weed and a flower is intention? A weed is something you did not plan- it sprung up of its own accord without apology or permission. A flower, however, was wanted, planted, cared for and nurtured; it was intentionally cultivated. I find it strange that we give such a negative term to these brave little blooms who brazenly display their strength and resilience.

I think I would rather be a dandelion than a rose; in many ways I think that perhaps I already am. I am not conventionally beautiful, no, I have never been guilty of that crime. Nor do I make up for my lack in grace with my winning charm- I am awkward, uncoordinated, too quiet, too loud, too anxious, too serious, too silly, too much of a dreamer, too much of a realist; too much of this and too little of that. And yet here I am, still standing, probably where you didn’t want me to be.

I am not sure who decided that those little yellow buds and delicate wishers were a nuisance instead of something to be celebrated. Surely it was not I; this little girl who proudly plucked and presented the bouquet of sunshine for my mother. Surely it was not her; this woman who would carefully put them in a vase in our kitchen for everyone to see. Perhaps it was those few souls who feared the things that did not need them; a rose will need your guiding hand, your love and attention. But not the dandelion, no, it only needs a little patch to call it’s own and to be left to it’s own devices.

I tend to discover the most beauty in the things I could not plan for, the moments that sprout up unannounced and unexpected into my life. There is no edge of anticipation to taint them, no expectation to warrant disappointment. My favorite moments in life were ‘dandelion’ moments; unexpected, perhaps occasionally unwanted, and yet they brought color to a drab world. My writing is like a dandelion- these words that color my soul, though they were not planned, not thought out, not properly executed. They were not the career that I had spent years attempting to cultivate. They simply existed, always right there, surviving when nothing else could.

End it on a good one

I rarely dabbled in organized sports growing up, often preferring to play on my own terms with my own friends (we will pretend that my lack of coordination and fear of letting other people down had nothing at all to do with it). I always had a blast, learned a lot and made new friends. But there is one lesson that stuck with me, a quote that my eighth grade volleyball coach used to call out at the end of every practice, “end it on a good one.” We would get into position and keep pushing until we got it right for the last time of the night. It didn’t seem to matter if we failed most of the time, if practice was a complete disaster- we would always rally to find a way to end it right. I don’t know why this one little lesson stuck with me all these years later; I’m on the cusp of 30 (where the hell did the time go?) and I still catch myself saying this- at the end of a long day, at the end of a hard year- always end it on a good one.

2018 is at a close, and the fresh promise of a new year is awaiting us just mere hours from now. This year I’m not dressed up, I’m not out with a big group of friends, I’m not drinking- I’m pretty boring I guess. But the funny thing is, I’m ending the year doing exactly what I love, something I neglected more than I should have these past months. I’m sitting here writing, spilling my heart on paper with my dog curled up contentedly at me feet and the man I love just feet away playing a video game (ironically, his favorite thing to do and something he has been too busy to enjoy this past year). It’s simple and special only because it means something to us.

2018 was a mixed blessing for me. One year ago today my dad was recovering from the accident that almost killed him. I remember being so thankful for the small miracles as I sat with him and helped him recover that winter. 2018 was the year that my weaknesses helped me discover my strength. I took care of my dad while trying to work and go to school full time. I was in a car accident that left me shaken and injured myself. My car didn’t survive, but I was lucky that it wasn’t worse. Months of pain and treatments taught me how fragile and also how strong the human body can be. I struggled through anxiety attacks and a terrifying slip into depression because I wouldn’t stop pushing myself so hard. I still remember what it felt like to carry that ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach, to collapse on the bathroom floor at work as an anxiety attack stormed through me. I remember how it took months of ‘self care’ before I felt normal again.

2018 was the year of the ‘almost-house,’ when we were finally going to buy one and I was so excited. It was a dream finally coming true. It was also the year that we backed out of it because something just didn’t feel right. And one month later I thanked my stars that we listened to our instincts because Link (my dog) got hurt and lost the ability to use his back legs. The money we had planned on using for a down payment turned into the money that paid for the surgery that let him walk again. Now he’s as feisty as ever, chasing the cat up and down the stairs in the house we’re renting- seems like a pretty fair trade to me.

2018 was also the year of miracles, the year of change. As of today I am 18 weeks pregnant with our very first little one, something I’ve wanted for such a long time. My tummy is just popping, the little bulge evident under my old t-shirts that I will continue to wear as long as I can. Truthfully, those first months of pregnancy were some of the hardest I have endured, but now that I’m finally on the other side of the morning sickness and fatigue (and with a new appreciation for how amazingly tough women are), and I can look back with more gratitude than I could muster at the time. I didn’t think it would ever really happen, but here we are, about it turn another chapter in our lives. 2018 started out harder than I could have imagined, but in a matter of months everything changed.

I’ve been thinking and re-evaluating, like I do every year. And I came to a simple conclusion: happiness doesn’t always have to be hard, and sometimes the best thing you can ever do is listen to your instincts. You don’t have to push yourself to the breaking point to succeed, and the journey will always be more important than the final destination. I had a goal last year, one that I pursued relentlessly, one that I thought I wanted. But in my quest to fulfil that goal I forgot about enjoying the journey. I twisted it into something it never should have been and sacrificed my own mental health in the process. I ignored the things that I loved, telling myself I would have time later. I would have time to write, time to spend with people, time to play with the dog, time to just exist as I am. But time isn’t guaranteed and good intentions will only take you so far.

So for 2019 I am taking a step back and simplifying. I am trusting my instincts and following my heart. I am writing again, and I can feel my soul uncurling as it awakens. I am playing with the dog and making plans with loved ones; I am doing all of the things that mattered to me, all of the things that fill my soul and help me center myself. This is going to be a year of change, a year of growth, and fresh promises. It’s going to be messy and imperfect, but all of the best moments are.

Happy New Year everyone, I hope you live this next year as authentically as you can. I hope you learn, I hope you grow, I hope you enjoy the small moments and appreciate the lessons of the harder ones. And if things get rough, I hope you remember that a single day can change your whole world. A year from now you will be a completely different person; I hope you love that person and cherish every step that got you there- the ones that you danced over and the ones you fought and clawed for. You deserve a beautiful year, and I hope you get it. Until then, lets end it on a good one.