Living in Sicily means LOT OF LEMONS! Growing up in Virginia, I was used to the summer season as the main time of the year for growing plants. In Sicily, it’s fall and winter, and that is just so strange to me. I have to say, I really do love it though. Instead of everything looking all brown and dead, winter is colorful, the grass is green, and it’s clearly a season of growth.

Our lemon tree really took off this year, so I wanted to capture some images of Chalupa and Birdee out in our tiny little yard. Dad joined in for a few because Birdee was very curious as to what was happening outside of the fence. See some of my other shoots from around our neighborhood here and here.

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We had some incredibly thick fog one evening. So, of course, I dragged the gang out for a little bit of fog portrait play. These are a few of my favorites from walking around our neighborhood.





Fog Portraits | Sicily, Italy

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I’ve been starting to document our life at home more often. The main reason I ever picked up a camera was because I wanted better photos to keep of our family. I’ve photographed some family things, but mostly travel and photos for others. I decided to take my camera on one of our casual walks around our neighborhood with the puppies. Here are some of my favorite images from this day.



Neighborhood Walk | Sicily

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Having our first guest on island really made us stop and think, “If we were visiting Sicily, what would we want to see?” The answer here can certainly be endless, depending on what you’re into. We thought up a ton of day trips that were didn’t have time for in the end. Since Jordan was working while Ashley was in town, we had to coordinate sharing a car, which proved to be a bit more difficult than anticipated. So, besides the day trip we took to Caltagerone, Piazza Armerina, and Enna, we kept our exploration a bit closer to home. Since we live near the east coast of Sicily, we visited some of the top spots along the coast that I’d say you can’t miss! Can you guess what they are?

Four East Coast Must See Towns in Sicily

Taormina

Perhaps the most famous town to visit in all of Sicily? Ashley identified Taormina as a “must see” before she even arrived. Luckily, we have visited there quite often, so it was an easy place to go. We always park in Porta Catania when we go, so you can just walk right into the old town. You can also park in Parcheggio Lumbi and take a shuttle to the old town as well.

Top tip: Visit Hotel Belmond (entrance on the right before you go into the greek theatre, Teatro Antico di Taormina) for a drink and receive complimentary views of Mt. Etna from their stunning outdoor patio. Fair warning, the drinks are $$!

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Enjoy a jaunt around the old town, visit the ancient theatre and don’t forget to stop at Bam Bar for granita.


Old Town

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Teatro Antico di Taormina

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Bam Bar

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Noto

If you’ve ever seen the Sicily episode of Chef’s Table, then you’ll understand why you have to stop in Noto for granita, if nothing else. While Bam Bar is for sure my favorite granita spot, no place can beat Cafe Sicilia‘s almond granita. And no, I don’t like it just because of the show. I had it before I ever even watched the show. The show just made me realize why it was so amazing! The town is super cute and has a few spots where you can climb to the top of buildings that overlook the town.

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Right outside of Noto is Villa Romana del Tellaro, another archaeological site of an ancient Roman Villa. This villa isn’t nearly as impressive as Villa Romana del Casale (which holds the best preserved Roman mosaics in the world). Thus, I’d recommend check it out only if you’re passing though.

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Catania

Catania is definitely the city I have visited the most (see a more in-depth post here). If there is one thing you see in Catania and nothing else, check out the Elephant Square area. Right behind Elephant Square is the Catania Fish Market (La Pescheria). You can acquire exceptional produce, fish, meats and cheese for incredibly low prices. Bring Euro coins, buy fresh foods, enjoy yourself.

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Syracuse + Ortygia

Possibly everyone’s favorite city on the east coast of Sicily (okay, maybe not, but it tops my list) is Ortygia. Technically Ortygia is an island off of Sicily, but it is also the historic center of the city of Syracuse. It’s weird and mind boggling a little, but whatever.

I’ve talked about some of the things to do in Ortygia before, here. But this time, we checked some new things off of our list!


Cathedral of Syracuse


To be honest, we have explored so many churches since we moved to Sicily that they are all starting to run together in my head. I have visited the outside of this cathedral many, many times, but for some reason, I was never that intrigued to go in. This time, I went in and noticed something a little bit odd… Greek columns. And, that would because it was originally a Greek doric temple (Temple of Athena) from the 5th century BC! It was really phenomenal to see.

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Castello Maniace

We have attempted to visit the Castle Maniace several times, but to no avail. This time we made it! Inside the gates, you can climb the castle walls and get some pretty epic views.

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Ortygia’s Street Market

If you get lucky and visit during the morning of any day but Sunday, you’ll get to visit Ortigia’s Street Market. I think Ashley particularly enjoyed trying the fresh seafood there.

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While a bit overpriced, the restaurants along the waterway provide incredibly scenic views.

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After a year of living in Sicily, Jordan and I had our first visitor. My best friend, Ashley, flew all the way across the Atlantic to visit and see this crazy beautiful island on which we live. I couldn’t have been more excited to see her again or to show her my home.

One thing about visiting Sicily is that you really NEED a car. There are so many places in Europe that have incredibly efficient public transportation. Unfortunately, Sicily is not one of them. So, for her first full day here, we did a little day trip to three classically Sicilian towns: Caltagirone, Piazza Armerina, and Enna. This was one of my favorite island road trips, so I wanted to make sure to share it.

Note: This is a great day trip because visiting these towns in order (or reverse order) creates a circle from Sigonella (or Catania). 

Stop 1: Caltagirone

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This town was NOT on Ashley’s “to see” list, but I knew it should be. Caltagirone is in the middle of nowhere Sicily, but many people travel there each year for the infamous Sicilian ceramics. The town itself has no shortage of ceramics shops. Some shops have working studios and artists in them, others are just a store front for sales. Most buildings in the old town are decorated with ceramic tiles, so it is vibrant and colorful!

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One of the highlights is the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, a 142 step staircase that connects the lower to the older upper town.  Each stair is decorated with its own unique design on handcrafted ceramic tiles.

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We visited a multitude of shops (most of which do not permit photos).  At one shop, we were able to visit the workshop and learn about the history of Sicilian ceramics. It was very interesting!

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While we were there, we decided to grab lunch before moving on to our next location. Being the planner I am (not), I randomly picked a restaurant (Coria) with good reviews on Google. As we entered through the doors, I noticed a bright red sign by the entrance indicating it was a Michelin Star restaurant. Whoops! We were not dressed for the occasion, nevertheless, we were already there. Of course, the food and drinks were absolutely amazing and we really enjoyed ourselves. 

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Stop 2: Piazza Armerina

Prior to this trip with Ashley, neither Jordan nor I had ever been to Piazza Armerina before. The main attraction here is Villa Romana del Casale, a fancy Roman villa that dates back to the 4th Century A.D. Villa Romana del Casale has the best preserved Roman mosaics in the world. The villa was the property of a powerful Roman family and is quite expansive (either a senator or as part of an “imperial function” of the emperor [Maximian] himself).


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The drive there was breathtaking.

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The views of the town were pretty cool too!

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The villa itself was vast and held MANY incredibly detailed mosaics. 
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We spent some time walking the grounds and pretending to be back in Roman times for a moment.

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Stop 3: Enna

Jordan and I have been to Enna many times before and you just CAN’T beat the views.  Enna is one of Sicily’s classic “hilltop towns” and is located in the center-ish of the island.  Thus, it doesn’t see many tourists (unless it’s Easter).  

Our plan was to visit Castello di Lombardia,followed by Rocca di Cerere. Unfortunately, the castle closed early that day, so we just visited the super majestic overlook featured in the photos below. Since it was also cold and extremely windy, we only visited Enna Cathedral before heading back home.

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Dear Mom,

This morning I went for a run.  I thought of you.  I thought of how pointless you thought it was for me to spend time running.  How, when I ran my first half-marathon, you were not impressed.  How hard I worked and trained for it and how quickly you disregarded my accomplishment.  It made me miss you more.  

As I got past the first half-mile, I thought about that time in high school when you told me I couldn’t go to college.  That it just wasn’t in the cards for me because you couldn’t afford it, but I applied and went anyway and went on a full scholarship. I thought about how you told me after I graduated that I must now feel so much “better than” and how using the money I gained by selling my house to pay off my Ph.D. loans was such a waste.  It made me realize that you were very different than me. 

Somewhere between the end of that thought and the first mile, I thought about the countless times you told me how I should do things differently.  How you told me that your friend’s kids were having kids and you didn’t understand why I didn’t just move back home and do the same. It made me realize I’d never give you what you expected from me.

After mile one, it hit me that after all these years, my feelings of never being enough [for you] led me to where I am today.  If it weren’t for all the times you told me “I couldn’t” I may have settled, and you know me, I’m not good at settling. It made me wish I could thank you.

Around a mile and a half, I could barely breathe, not from running, but from the grief swelling up inside of me.  My thoughts are often so conflicted; we had many years together where I admired you and looked up to you, but we had many years where we completely missed each other, where I felt like there was nothing I could possibly do to make you happy with me. And, when I look back on us – on you – I can’t ever see one without seeing the other.

You’ll never know how many times I eat something amazing or see something I know you’d like and can’t wait to share it with you.  And at the same time, I know that no matter how hard I tried, I’d still disappoint you. 

Thank you for all the years of your life that you gave to me. Thank you for doing the best you could for me. Thanks for the motivation to accomplish all of the things I have. Because without those things I couldn’t have what I have now – peace and happiness.

Love you, wherever you are, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day. Thanks for all you gave me.

 

We were supposed to do thaaangs this weekend, but funny enough they all fell though. About 30 minutes before sunset, I had the idea to bike around our neighborhood and snap some photos for fun.  It’s almost the end of orange season in Sicily, so we decided to stop by the orange trees. The photos are silly, but we had a lot of fun.  So, here you go!

 

Orange Season in Sicily

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I really can’t believe it’s been a full year since we moved to Sicily!  To be completely honest, it has probably been the fastest year of my life.  Looking back now, it all seems like a big blur.  Luckily, I have kept up fairly well with blogging, so I can reminisce about all of my travel over the last 12 months (see my 2018 recap here).

To say I’ve learned a lot in this past year is an understatement.  I’ve not only learned about what it’s like to live in Europe, but also sooo much about myself.   While you probably don’t care that much about what I’ve learned about myself (I’ll save that for another day!), you might be interested to know what I’ve learned about living in Sicily!  So, here are ten things I’ve learned while living in Sicily…

What to know before you go to italy

Ten things I’ve learned while living in Sicily:

1. You can indeed survive in a place where you don’t speak the language.

I had every intention of learning Italian when we moved here, but I have been so busy with work, travel, blogging, that I honestly haven’t prioritized it.  While life would be much easier if I could adequately communicate, I can definitely get by without being able to do so.  On that note, it is definitely important to know some things and to better understand what is/isn’t socially acceptable.

For example, Sicilians really value greetings.  When you step into a store, restaurant, market stall, etc. you immediately need to say ‘good morning’ (Buongiorno) or ‘good evening’ (Buonasera).  Additionally, their idea of morning differs from ours – morning is until 2pm here! Not, 12pm as in the US.

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2. Public transportation sucks and driving is terrifying!

I was told before we moved here that driving in Sicily was crazy.  That was an understatement.  There are NO RULES!  That’s right.  You can drive 120mph or 20mph, it’s all up to you. You can stop in the middle of the road and reverse if you miss your turn, or simply create your own lane when you don’t want to wait.  Oh, and no one gives a shit about stop lights or signs.  They are all just simply suggestions.

Sicily is also incredibly spread out, which makes public transportation impractical.  Va bene.

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3.  Don’t take clean water and air quality for granted!

I know not all water and air quality is superb in the US, but I’ve personally never lived in a place where the water is only sometimes potable and I have to have an app on my phone to monitor the air quality before I go outside.  From the moment we moved here, we only drank bottled water (we have a water cooler to cut back on plastic waste). But, it wasn’t until a bit later that I realized that a volcano in your back yard + Sahara sand storms that blow over your island are both good reasons for staying indoors!

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4. Variety is the spice of life, but eating Italian food every day is okay too.

The food is ALWAYS good here.  No matter where we go or what we eat (except that one “sushi” restaurant, Justin and Maddie). But the caveat to that is our choices of cuisine are literally Italian or… Italian. There are a couple of sushi places, a Thai restaurant, and a “Mexican” restaurant that I know of, but for the large, large majority, everything is Italian.  This means there is a lot of pizza, pasta, seafood, and aaahhhmazing desserts.  Luckily for me, I LOVE all of that.  My body, however, could use a few more salads.

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5. Sicilians are Sicilian first, Italian second.

Life in Sicily is different than life in Italy.  They even have their own dialect and cuisine.  I didn’t realize until we went to Rome that much of what we eat and love in Sicily is purely Sicilian!  The pasta norma (spaghetti with eggplant sauce), pistachio on everything (pizza, pasta, ice cream), Arancini (fried balls of rice with fillings inside), granita (a dessert somewhere between sorbet and Italian ice).

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6. You can live without Amazon Prime and 24 hour shopping.

It is hard, but now when I get a package in 10 days instead of 14, I’m like, WOW! That was fast!  I also tend to stock up on things a bit more.

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7. Religion is prominent.

Generally, the most prominent landmark in Sicilian towns are the basilicas.  And, boy are they stunning! I don’t consider myself to be a religious person, but as I told Jordan when we were in Naples, the experience walking though the basilicas is very moving.  The sheer size of the structures, along with all of the tiny details, is just incredible.

Sicilians also love their saints.  Each town has its own saint and many of the people born in that town are named accordingly.  For example, in Catania, the patron saint is Saint Agata.   Thus, many of the women there are also name Agata.

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8. There is this thing called “riposo.”

Riposo is a daily event which equates to a really long lunch break where every store closes during the middle of the day.  In America, normal business hours are 8AM – 5PM.  In Sicily, they are 8ish to 8ish, with a three hour break in the middle of the day from 12PM – 3PM.  I get why Sicilians need this nap – dinner doesn’t start until after 8PM, so they stay up late.  But, I ALWAYS want to stop during this time somehow and I can’t!!

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9. Pets are allowed most places!

One of the coolest things to me is seeing pets in the mall! Pets in the Apple store just waiting to get the latest iPhone.  Dogs at restaurants. YESSSS! More of this, please!

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10. Make sure to pack your own toilet paper

As public toilets are few and far between.  When you find one, it will probably be dirty and out of toilet paper.  Make sure to have some coins on you to pay for the privilege to pee and bring your own toilet paper so you don’t have to drip dry!

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One of the first experiences Jordan and I had in Sicily was visiting an agriturismo.  At the time, I don’t think I fully understood what an agriturismo really is (we were visiting for Maddie’s birthday).  So, we recently paid another visit to Murgo with our friends Rachel and Aaron. This post is all about the agriturismo experience; one you won’t want to pass up if you visit Italy!

So, what is an agriturismo? Basically, agriturismi (plural) are working farmhouse Bed & Breakfasts (e.g. “farm-stays”).  That is, an agriturismo is an independently-owned farm that you can stay in while visiting Italy.  Thus, the owners of the “hotel” or agriturismo, are primarily farmers and your room is in the farmhouse or somewhere along the grounds.  This all sounds very “unofficial,” however, agriturismi are legitimate businesses and some can be quite fancy!  If you want to know the basic historical rundown, essentially, the Italian government began providing tax relief for family farms that opened their doors to visitors in 1985.  However, to be legally considered an agriturismo, more income must be generated from farm activities than the B&B.

I have to admit, I have not actually stayed overnight at an agriturismo. Perhaps we will do this later in Tuscany!  However, there are so many near our home that I have made several visits for what I consider to be the best part – the food.  As they are working farms, the food is local (most from the farm) and AMAZING!!  We have been to several agriturismi, and the food has ranged from 30 to 50 euros per person.  This includes all courses of a meal.  The menu is pre-planned.  Some agriturismi serve meals family style (like Murgo) or individually (like Barone di Villagrande).  Some include full bottles of wine or wine tastings from the farm’s winery.  It all just depends on where you go!

The one thing that I must note is that agriturismi are generally not conveniently located.  Since they are working farms, they are usually out in the country.  Thus, transportation to-and-from may be difficult to coordinate. Therefore, planning ahead is essential (I always reserve, even for the meal).  However, they agriturismi I have been to have been 100% worth the trouble!!

I snapped a few shots of our HUGE meal at Murgo so you can see what 35€ got us (spoiler: a lot!!!) We also spent some time casually wandering around the grounds with Rachel + AJ, so I’ve also included a few shots from our impromptu photoshoot. Enjoy!

 

Our Meal at Murgo Agriturismo

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Murgo

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Rachel + AJ’s Impromptu Photoshoot

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Needless to say, 2018 was a HUGE year for us that was full of exciting change!  The moment that topped it all off was our move overseas from Virginia to Sicily, Italy in February.  So much has happened over the last 12 months, I thought it would be fun to relive the best of 2018!

I really loved going back through all of my photographs from this year and reliving so many memories!  So, without further ado, here is a recap of my 2018 including some of my favorite memories:

 

The Best of 2018

The BIG Move

  • 2018 started off with a BIG announcement that were moving overseas! The next month was completely insane as we shipped off all of our things, sold my car and our home, and made arrangements for our new digs in Sicily!  Once we arrived, we immediately moved into our Americanized-Sicilian townhome and patiently awaited the arrival of our car and household goods. That period of time was truly crazy!

 

Exploring Our New Home – Sicily

  • We began our time in Sicily with some trips around the island. I (sadly) didn’t get around to blogging most of them, but here are a few of my favorites:
  • Agrigento (photos below)
  • Catania
  • Taormina
  • Syracuse & Ortigia Island
  • San Vito Lo Capo & Erice
  • Enna
  • Caltigerone
  • Noto
  • and Cefalú

You can find “highlights” of all of these trips over on my Instagram, if you are interested: click here.

Exploring Europe

  • Our first trip off-island was fast-paced, fun, and exciting! We ventured to Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast (Positano) during Easter weekend.  It was a quick trip FULL of hilarious stories.  From visiting catacomb after catacomb, to our friends’ car getting locked in a parking garage before our trip to the airport.  Our Naples trip was one we will never forget!

 

  • Malta was GORGEOUS and a literal dream of mine. We traveled all over the main island, but would still really like to go to Gozo and Comino if we go back.

 

  • Lyon, France (blog post coming soon!) for a long weekend was ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS!! In particular, I enjoyed the shopping and the food, but I never got around to blogging this one. Whoops!

  • In the heat of summer, we visited one of my old faves – Berlin. Berlin is always amazing, the food is always delicious, and the weather is HOT in the summer.  Nevertheless, it was refreshing to hang out with my friends Pauline and Michele again, and meet Pauline’s boyfriend, Ben.

 

  • For our week long “vacation,” we flew to London for 24-hours (STAAAAAP, London, I love you!!!!!) and then to Dublin, Ireland, where we embarked on a 5-day road trip around southern Ireland. This was my favorite trip of 2018 for sure – the nature was just breathtaking and the people, so kind.   If you have ONE trip you could take to Europe, I’d recommend this one, hands down. See why I’m so in love here and here.

 

  • For my birthday, we jetsetted off to Sofia, Bulgaria – a country I’ve wanted to visit for a long time!! I got to visit with my college buddy, Rashko while I was there, and my best friend Ashley’s college buddy, Niya kindly picked us up from the airport and sent me lots of information about things to do. It was a cool experience and I’m so glad we went.  Blog post on this one is TBD!

 

  • In September, we flew to Munich to meet up with Ashley, John, Maddie, and Justin for OKTOBERFEST!!! I personally was not that excited about the actual festival before we went (I know, I’m so weird), but I actually enjoyed it and had a fabulous time!  The city of Munich was clean and beautiful, and the people were seriously, so kind.  Also, Bavarian food!!!!

 

  • TWO DAYS after our Munich trip, we boarded another plane for Paris, France. What a romantic dream trip Paris was!! From sunrise at the Eiffel Tower to strolls around the Louvre, Paris was everything I thought it would be!! Unfortunately, I did acquire some unknown “life-threatening bacterium” (words of my doctor) at some point during this trip and spent nearly three weeks recovering.  As I’ve said before, the bacterial infection (as horrible as it was – truly effing horrible), won’t stop me from returning.  As a matter of fact, I’ve already booked my next trip!

 

  • After Paris, we embarked on Barcelona, Spain (blog post coming soon!) for some R&R and more incredible food! We spent the majority of one day at the hotel spa (no regrets!) and the remainder of our trip jaunting around the city!  We also got to meet up with our friends Rachel and AJ and their parents for my first international photoshoot!!

 

  • CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN GERMANY was another item on my “bucket list” that I got to cross off this year! We flew to Berlin for a quick weekend trip to visit Pauline and Ben and THREE of Berlin’s MANY markets.  It was a dream trip and we can’t wait to visit more next year 😉

 

We are heading to one more place before 2019, but I’ll wait to post about this one until we have actually returned!

Volcanic Eruptions

  • We visited some of the other islands around Sicily. Stromboli (one of the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily), was our first island hop.  We ventured there for one night and a SEVEN, yes SEVEN, hour hike to the top of Stromboli volcano at night.  It was as exhausting and strenuous as it was enchanting!! We got to watch the volcano erupt many times, so it was worth it!!

 

  • We got to witness not just one but TWO volcanic eruptions!! On Christmas Eve, Mount Etna erupted with plumes of smoke, over 130 earthquakes and two fresh new craters spouting LAVA! It was an unexpected Christmas surprise that has kept many native islanders on edge!

Time with Family

  • Despite ALL of the above, my favorite moments of 2018 were with those I love. Being at home with Jordan, Birdee, and Chalupa was by far my favorite thing I did this year.  As all military families know, time (and holidays) together are not guaranteed.  I think this makes me appreciate every moment with them so much more.

 

My life has changed in so many ways over this past year, reflecting back on it all is really actually quite surreal. I think my biggest takeaway from this past year is that you never know where life is going to take you.  As a person who was extremely “type-A” for so long, stepping back and allowing life to take over a little bit has helped me to realize that sometimes the best things that happen to us are the unplanned ones.  I’ve also developed an even greater sense of YOLO (you only live once, right?!), that I’m a little bit overwhelmed with the fact that I will never get to see or do all the things I want to. So, for 2019, I aim to be more present in everyday life; to enjoy the little moments just as much as the big ones!

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