Greetings and welcome to my little corner of the world. My name is Belinda. An American expat living in Wales after a 18 month long distance relationship, making sense of life in Britain. Travels around Europe, adventures in Wales plus enjoying and living an overall positive outlook on life.
Well hello friends, and dare I say it … Happy 2018? I can hardly believe we have welcomed another year, filled with promises and plans. I always like to spend the first week or so of the New Year meditating and reflecting on what I hope the next 365 days to feel like.
And just like last year, here are the three questions I have been asking myself as I reflect on what direction to take 2018:
What didn’t work?
Not writing much here on the old blog. For the past year, I haven’t had the creative spark to share our adventures – which makes me a bit sad as the archive of my blog is really precious to me. I need to reflect a bit more, but I want to start writing regularly – but on what is to be decided (as always, feedback welcomed). So, please do watch this space.
Not staying connected with family and friends back home. Returning to America for Christmas reminded me that we have some wonderful people back in Seattle – who love us very much. Big extended family members who read my blog consistently (hi!) and friends who I’ve known for nearly 20 (!) years. I need to do a better job at staying connected to these people are true gems in my life.
What did work?
I stepped into my own in 2017, really owning a new role – taking feedback and growing into a challenging career. And then, at the end of the year in 2017 I was given the chance to further step out of my comfort zone – which is scary and rewarding in the same breath.
Our traveling adventures to Iceland and Italy, where in the theme of ‘seeking the light’, I was mesmerised by sunsets and starry skies. I found myself inspired at every turn which constantly had me dreaming of more passport stamps.
I made a true commitment to my health – with eating the ‘right stuff’, making appointments for working out and honoring my body more. I have been focused on my health to give me more opportunity to get out into the world – to travel and have even more adventures in the great wild Wales.
I embraced spontaneous ideas more than ever before – and it worked out well. From going to West End shows on my own or heading to America for the Final Four with 72 hours notice -my last minute ideas were truly some of my best memories for 2017.
What would 2018 look like if it was filled with what worked?
It would be a year filled with new challenges and adventures, with joy and laughter and appreciation of the ‘good stuff’.
It would be a year where new things outside of our comfort zone are within reach – we would say ‘yes’ more and stop coming up excuses.
It would be a year with love abounding, from every wonderful corner of the world.
With that vision of what 2018 would look like if it was filled with what worked, I have decided that the 2018 the focus will be, ‘flourish‘.
to be in a vigorous state; thrive:a period in which art flourished
to be in its or in one’s prime; be at the height of fame, excellence,influence, etc.
to be successful; prosper.
to grow luxuriantly, or thrive in growth, as a plant.
to make dramatic, sweeping gestures:Flourish more when you act out the king’s great death scene.
to add embellishments and ornamental lines to writing, letters, etc.
to sound a trumpet call or fanfare.
This is idea of thriving and growing is powerful and empowering and has me optimistic for the year ahead with that single word in mind.
To flourish with my healthy journey – from welcoming healthier choices with my diet to finding a balance for exercise habits. (We can keep building on the positive trend of 40 lbs lost so far!)
To flourish in my relationship with Neal, my true partner in crime, and always making time for the two of us.
To flourish in my professional career, and embrace new challenges and opportunity.
To flourish while we travel in and around Wales, plus adventures around Europe. (We already have trips planned for France and Denmark on the horizon!)
To thrive. To grow luxuriantly. To be successful. To be in one’s prime.
Reading this gets me excited to start, and to get challenges underway and to begin to grow. I don’t like to set resolutions – but instead I always aim to keep that focus right in the front of all that I do… and this year, it’s all about flourishing as much as possible.
Although I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus this year, I can’t let the end of the year come and go with out recounting some of my favorite moments of the year in one massive roundup/catchup post. I know that 2017 was an exhausting year for most of us, but there was still goodness that came over the past 12 months, right?
Grab a cup of coffee, or a big old glass of wine and let’s have a little recap of 2017.
Are you in?
Iceland Adventures for My Birthday
As I said previously, Iceland was inspiring and amazing – and it was even better to experience the Icelandic magic on my birthday. And even better? Meeting some sweet Icelandic ponies right there in the middle of nowhere. It was a beautifully surreal experience, and I absolutely loved it. The scale of Iceland was awe inspiring – and reminded me how wonderfully big the world is.
Tuscan Sunsets on our Anniversary
This year, we were lucky to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary in Tuscany at a beautiful AirBnB that gave us incredible sunsets each and very night. During our time in Tuscany, we explored Florence but we also visited small medieval towns a bit off the tourist track – like Volterra and San Gimigano – which was simply wonderful. I was mesmerised by the cathedrals of Siena, the narrow alley ways and the old cobbled stone pathways. And can we talk about the fresh food and cheap wine? I am ready to pack my bags now to return.
Embarking on a Wellness Journey
In July, I had a moment when I realised I needed to improve my health and overall well being. I started small – with counting my steps and tracking my meals. Gradually, I added more cardio and strength training, waking up early for morning workouts and drinking a ton of water. Slow and steady wins the health race, and now after 5 months of hard work, I have made it to my 40lbs milestone mark! The exciting thing isn’t the scale – but instead how I feel with more energy and confidence which improve each and everyday. Embarking on my journey was easily one of the best moments of 2017.
I can hardly believe that it has been a week since we returned from our adventure in Iceland. I can hardly believe it, as the this trip was overwhelming in the best possible way. In fact, it was the most affirming trip we’ve taken in all of our adventures.
You see, when we were planning our trip to Iceland for my birthday, I wanted to visit a place that would inspire me into my next year. A trip that would give me the motivation and energy to take on those big goals I have for my 36th year.
We began our adventures with guide books and a paper map in hand, with little expectations and a general idea of where we’d be heading. As the landscape unfolded around us, I quickly found myself understanding the appeal and general charm of Iceland. This country, with waterfalls and wild ponies, with geysers and volcanoes – is captivating at every single mile point on the road.
I found the landscape difficult to comprehend, and keep to scale, as buildings and landmarks are far and few between. The landmarks of Iceland is the landscape itself.
And as we drove along the ribbon of the road, I began thinking of the epic history of this landscape – of this country: the home of the Vikings. And how this small, remote and distant island, was at the heart of the Viking saga. How the mountains and streams and valleys were there a thousand years before I joined the planet, and how they will exist after I die. (Big thoughts for a road trip, don’t you think?)
As we drove, I felt empowered to feel strong and humbled at scale of it all.
Iceland gave me a beautiful sense of perspective.
Perspective to remember that my problems and anxieties are relatively small. Perspective on how big the world is and how small my place is in this vast place.
Also, during our trip I found myself pushing myself outside of my comfort zone – getting past the fear. From hiking up slippery rocks at a waterfall to strolling along the rocks of a volcanic crater. From going to a public swimming pool (requiring me to shower in front of strangers in my real birthday suit) to going down a water slide (silly fear I know, but the first time in over 25 years.)
Iceland gave me the inspiration to continue to go beyond the fear in all aspects of life and see where the adventures take me.
And you know what I realised when we go beyond the fear? That is where the good stuff is – joy and love and adventure. When we move beyond the fear in our own mind, and we are able to go beyond, we remind ourselves of what we are made of – and we experience more. Beyond the fear is where memories are made.
I was wonderfully inspired by all the Iceland had to offer. I loved feeling so grounded in such big country.
Here’s to greeting this upcoming year with perspective and fearlessness!
Tell me, where is a place where you found yourself inspired and learning a lesson or two?
A few weeks ago, I bought a book with dog friendly walks in Snowdonia. You’d think that all walks and trails are dog-friendly, but here in the UK, many times paths have gates or stiles that are difficult for pups to pass through. I wanted to get a book that would act as a guide for walks in around Snowdonia National Park, here in North Wales.
What better time to explore a new area than in August? When the days are long and hopefully the sun is shining?
Last Sunday, we headed to LLyn Owrgen in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, which is the start of the trail called ‘Devil’s Kitchen’. At the start of the trail there is a visitor’s centre, with a small cafe and public restrooms.
I was surprised that the majority of the path had large stones in the path – ideal for preventing it from been too muddy. I was also surprised at how busy the path was! But, it was a sunny Sunday in August, so everyone was out for the day.
The trail starts at a nice incline to begin with, but you are quickly taken into the hills and are surrounded by peaks of the mountains. It was awe-inspiring. The heather was in full bloom, dotting the green grass with old pops of purple and fuschia.
After a 20 minute walk, we arrived at Llyn Idwal, perfect spot to have a picnic and enjoy the sunshine. The lake was the ideal depth for Freddy to play in (normally, he isn’t a big fan of the water.) We could have continued around the perimeter of the lake, but we opted to come back another day to finish the loop — as we got a much later start than we had originally hoped for.
This is my ‘Holy shit, this city girl is really an outdoor girl because I just strolled through the hills of a mountain. How did that happen?!?’
This was the first time that we have taken a short hike through the hills of Snowdonia, and it was a beautiful day out. We got very lucky: the sun was shining, the heather was in bloom and the path wasn’t too muddy. Now that we have successfully completed that first walk from the book, I am excited to try others…and when I do I will share them here on the blog!
Visiting the Uffizi Gallery was a top priority when we visited Florence, especially since the museum is home to the world famous Botteicelli paintings. The Uffizi Gallery is housed in the administrative offices of the Medici family, and the building itself is grand with sweeping staircases and beautiful details painted on the ceiling. It’s not very often the museum feels like a work of art, but in Uffizi — it’s true.
Before entering the museum, I opted to buy one of the guidebooks which had descriptions of each work of art – painting, sculpture, fresco and more. There was also the option for an audio guide, I liked the idea of having a little souvenir from the visit.
The first halls within the Uffizi features Byzantine art from the 13th century, with bold colours and bright gold gilding I was immediately in awe that the paintings I was looking at could easily be over 700 years old. (It’s a bit mind boggling, don’t you think?)
Then we arrived into Halls 10-14 featuring the works of the great master Botticelli. On one wall, ‘The Spring’, took centre stage and the other wall was the ‘Birth of Venus’ and both paintings were breathtaking. ‘The Spring’ beautifully dominated an entire wall, measuring 6ft by 10ft, a truly staggering piece of art. The level of detail, on a painting of that size was incredible, each left and flower perfectly created.
After marveling at ‘The Spring’, we moved to the icon ‘Birth of Venus’, and let me tell you … she was amazing. Now, I have seen the ‘Birth of Venus’ on posters, in art books, on magnets and in movies… but seeing this masterpiece in person gave me goosebumps. Over 600 years ago, Botticelli painted Venus with such reverence for the real-female form. She had curves for days, radiating a beautiful sense of beauty and peace. I wanted to stay there for the rest of the afternoon soaking up her energy.
As we moved on through the Uffizi, the one thing was most surprised by was the bold sense of colour. Many of the paintings were viewing were easily 500 years old, and the colour pigments were vibrant and multidimensional.
The Uffizi Gallery is world renowned for being one of the best collections of Renaissance paintings in the world, and as you move from hall to hall this becomes clear quickly. We spent about 2 1/2 hours strolling through the gallery, which felt like enough time but we could have easily spent more time there as well.
Tell me, have you ever visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence? What did you think?
Know Before You Go:
Pre-Booking tickets is a must – As one of the most popular museums in Florence, booking tickets is key to avoiding standing long lines. We booked our museum ticket here.
Book your tickets early in the day – The museum works on a one out, one in system so space is limited for the number of guests who can visit at any time. Having a timed entry for earlier in the day should help with reducing the wait time (hopefully).
Grab a Coffee (or Wine) with a View– As you explore through the Uffizi Gallery, you will come across a rooftop cafe. This is the perfect spot to take a bit of a break, grab a coffee and enjoy the views of the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio.
On our first full day in Florence, we decided to stroll along the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti, the palace that was home to the Medici family from 1549.
And although I read the few pages on the palace in my guidebook, about the art and artictechture held within the palace, I felt prepared for our visit… I wasn’t. I always find myself wonderfully overwhelmed when visiting opulent places like the Palazzo Pitti. (Hint: The guidebooks simply do not do it justice.)
Being the palace of the Medici family, one of the most powerful and wealthy in all of Italy, the Palazzo Pitti needed to display the family’s position in the world. It needed to humble guests, and remind them of who always had the upper hand.
Walking through the palace, this is immediately clear. With rich wall hangings, gold guild everywhere, intricate mosaics, rooms filled with paintings — the Medici family displayed wealth (and in turn power) at every turn.
We spent the morning walking through the apartments, and galleries and at the end of the tour we were greeted to a tapestry room. Now, normally at the end of the tour, I have seen enough beautiful pieces of art and I’m a bit spent. Not with these tapestries.
These tapestries, showcased the Four Elements, date back to 1664 and were originally commissioned to celebrate Louise XIV. The scale, 16 ft x 22ft, the level of detail as well of the age of these tapestries left me literally in awe. Here in front of me, was a grand piece of art intact, that was rich in detail and complexity and 112 years older than the Declaration of Independence.
Simply put, I found myself wonderfully speechless.
Know Before You Go…
We arrived when Palazzo Pitti first opened, which was perfect timing we didn’t have to wait in lines and the apartments themselves were not too crowded.
There are a few options for tickets, including the Boboli Gardens, but we opted for seeing just the interior of the palace.
You can’t bring large or oversized bags through the Palazzo Pitti, but there is a free bag check option.
There is a lovely cafe onsite, so you can easily visit the apartments in the morning and the gardens in the afternoon.
Have you ever visited Palazzo Pitti? What did you think?
Signing the Declaration of Independence took bravery and conviction.
If the Founding Fathers, had lost the Revolutionary War, they would have been seen as traitors. History would have been different, as would our future.
The signers of the Declaration had strength of conviction against wrong doings, so much so that they were willing to put their names on paper. And declare,
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
These Founding Fathers were brave. They stood up for what they believed to be right and fair and true, knowing there may be judgement or back lash.
Maybe, just maybe, we should take a valuable lesson from those who declared independence of July 4th, 1776:
To be brave
To stand up for causes near and dear to our hearts.
To be our true selves, to follow our hearts without fear of judgement.
To quit the job that makes us unhappy, and isn’t feeding our passion.
To walk away from toxic relationships, as we value our self worth.
To finally wear the bathing suit to the beach.
To speak our truth, and our peace.
To take that selfie first thing in the morning, sans make up. (Silly, I know. But, I am still not brave enough to do that.)
To ask questions, in a meeting when you may be a bit out of your depth.
To debate with someone you don’t agree with — respectfully.
To learn a new skill, and step out of your comfort zone.
To dance in public and not worry about looking silly.
To be bold, without fear of judgement.
To laugh and sing loudly.
Bravery means something different for each of us, but we each have the possibility of adding a little more bravery to our everyday lives… and when you think about it, what an incredible and empowering revolution that would be.
Happy 4th of July to all of my sweet American readers, and wishing everyone inspiration for a few moments of bravery.
Hi, friends. Belinda here, from this little corner of the internet.
It’s been a manic crazy month of June, but in all of the good ways. This includes three separate work trips to London and a promotion and title change. (Quite nerve racking and exciting in the same instant.)
And even with the long days and trains zipping me from one corner of the country to the other, there has been wonderful moments. With sunsets and strolls in gardens, beach days and visiting with ponies. I’ve spent my solo time in London randomly seeing Wicked and Kinky Boots, both incredible productions and fed my musical loving soul.
These little adventures have been so important for me to clear my head, and get into big open spaces. And sometimes that means stepping away from the computer, just to get some space.
Hence the radio silence.
But I am still here, thinking of the stories I am excited to share … including recapping our incredible trip to Tuscany last month. (Sidenote: It makes my heart sad that our trip to Tuscany was a month ago!)
I thought what better way to wrap up June, and get caught up with life, than a lovely little currently session?
Reading: I am current;y reading Homo Deus, all about the future of humanity based on our past. It is fascinating, and a bit of a mind bender, but I am really enjoying it.
I’ve also recently finished Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, which is about growing up in South Africa during apartheid. This book was a perfect blend of humor and honesty that I really enjoyed, it was incredibly eye-opening.
What summer reads are you currently enjoying?
Watching: We’ve just finished Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, but we are loving the new show Riviera. (Not sure if it is on in America, but it is a bit like Big Little Lies but set in France.)
Loving: Seeing the allotment Neal has been working on for months finally come to life. We have spinach, and courgettes (or zucchinis to us Americans), kale, potatoes, berries and lavender. Not bad for our first year! (Now, what to do with all the courgettes — ideas welcome!)
Listening: The thoughtful and incredibly interesting podcast Revisionist History has recently started season 2, and I am excited to catchup! (Heck, I may re-listen to season 1 the episodes were that interesting.)
Wondering: Where we should go for a midsummer break? I am finally seeing the end of the chaotic tunnel, and it would be great to book a long weekend and unplug for a few days. Neal is voting for Scotland, and I am thinking of South Wales? We shall see.
Tell me, what was the highlight of June for you? What is on your horizon for July?
I have come to realise that somehow my life abroad, has gradually evolved to become my new idea of normal. It’s normal to go to work on a double decker bus everyday. It’s normal to come across pubs older than America or uneven cobblestone paths. It’s normal to spend a Saturday exploring castles or country home estates.
It’s this definition of normal that I feel so humbly grateful for every single day. Most dream of living abroad, absorbing a new culture and living this life. But, this of course comes with sacrifice. For as wildly happy and content I am here in Wales, I have my moments where I feel pained on all that I have given up to live life with the title as ‘expat’. And somehow, I need to reconcile the joy with the guilt on a daily basis. That my friends is a mental balancing act.
Today marks my five year anniversary of arriving in Wales as a newlywed, looking to anxiously start my new life. As I as thinking about my personal evolution, I dove into my archives, which is where the quote above came from — my anniversary post from 2015. The idea of redefining my new ‘normal’ is a daily/weekly/monthly occurrence and still rings very true to me.
This year, on my five year anniversary, I feel like I have come into my own here in Wales, and possibility that has to do with the simple fact that I have had to start over. To build a new identity, to build a new framework of daily life. To learn how to cross the road, dial a phone or address an envelope. (No really, it’s the little things.) There have been times of struggle and frustration, and of course there have been moments of joy and triumph. Living abroad has given me the rare chance to step beyond my comfort zone, hell leave it behind and rewrite my comfort zone completely.
And as I did rewrote the rules and threw out the comfort zone, I found what I was made of and what I am capable of handling. In the span of 5 years, I have gone from struggling to create a routine to actually flourishing.
In five years, I have had 5 different jobs at 3 different companies, in 2 completely different fields. I know that may sound crazy, but I don’t really think so. You see, in moving to a new country, I have been given the chance to write new expectations of myself, and I’ve found that as I am learning new lessons… I am also building my hunger for challenges and growth. Before moving to Wales, I would have been happy in my last job in America (one that I loved) for years upon years, but here I’ve taken on a ‘What the hell could go wrong?’, mentality because after moving 5,000 miles — the worst is rarely really that bad.
And with that mentality, I have grown into a professional career that is a challenge and fulfilling. I have learned to stand up for myself, and what my worth and value is to a company. I have also grown into my outgoing, high-five giving self — even with my reserved British co-workers. For me, starting a new life has meant being as authentic as possible, because I didn’t move 5,000 miles to be less than my truest self.
I also believe that living in Wales, has allowed me to grow into my truest self. Wales, as I’ve shared before, is a stunning country with rolling green hillsides, medieval castles and areas of natural beauty at every turn. I have been constantly inspired by the green space, the big blue skies, and the slower pace of life living in Wales provides. I feel that my energy is constantly getting renewed while we have our mini adventures, and for that I am truly and wonderfully grateful.
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked.
“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you will find your treasure.”
-The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
When we listen to our hearts, and we find our treasure.
I am lucky to have listened to my heart that night in a bar in NYC, to have left my business card with the charming and friendly Welsh gent I met that night in September 2010. I was even luckier when he got in touch, and that we fell in love over e-mails and calls even with 5,000 miles keeping us apart. There were alot of obstacles in our path, even after I moved here, but it’s always been worth it.
Maybe I always knew that Neal was my heart and that is where my treasure lives.
And treasure, is always worth fighting for.
The treasure of finding someone who balances out my crazy – spontaneous side. The treasure of finding someone who loves me, silly little quirks and all. The treasure in finding someone who loves adventure, exploring new places and all while having a bit of a laugh.
Being married isn’t easy, not because of silly fights like emptying the dishwasher or picking up socks. Marriage isn’t easy because it requires (and rightfully so) so much out of each spouse. It requires us both to be fair and understanding, to support dreams and bucket lists and lofty ideas. It requires us to be patient and forgiving, even when we don’t want to. There isn’t a get out jail free card, and that’s a good thing.
But even with all of challenges, being married is an adventure. An adventure where you set on a path, with no idea where it will take you, but your companion stays the same. An adventure of a lifetime, where we have the chance to grow and evolve into better people.
It is a treasure to be by Neal’s side, to be his partner and to grow and evolve in our marriage.
Happy anniversary Neal you are my treasure for life.
(PS- I wanted to use a quote from The Alchemist as it was read during our wedding ceremony, and it is such a beautiful book.)
(PPS – In true blogging fashion, I’ve written a musing post on each of our anniversaries — almost like a little time capsule: