how I was awesome in 2013

I think we all need to remind ourselves of our own greatness sometimes. good things happen to us in life, but we also make these things happen by our actions and the choices that we make. I want to believe that I have a hand in my own destiny. my 2013 was awesome, because I was awesome in 2013.

do I sound a little ridiculous? maybe a little full of myself?

well, at the end of 2012 I was not feeling quite so positive. I had just survived my first months as an expat and was recovering from a scooter crash. and all I could think about was what I hadn't accomplished. over the course of 2013 I have grown - a lot - and become a happier person. so as we end the year I'm choosing to look back and give myself big hi-five. I'm linking up with Melyssa for weekly wishes today to share the things I accomplished and goals I achieved this year, big and small.

here are some of the ways I was awesome in 2013 - in no particular order, and with lots of links for you to investigate if you so choose:

I started keeping a journal
I participated in two month-long blogging challenges
I trained for and ran a ten mile race
I fostered a puppy
I survived the epic mattress/leaky ceiling drama
I started creating and sharing my own fonts
I took risks and faced my fears

I went outside my comfort zone
I traveled to Thailand, the Philippines, and Hong Kong
I figured out how to turn around a bad day
I organized my life a little more
I tutored a few Chinese teachers in English
I attended a photography workshop
I started writing a book

I painted a chevron wall in my office
I completed the Everyday Happy e-course
I began purchasing sponsorships to promote my blog
I watched a sunrise
I used a squat toilet for the first time
I chopped my hair short
I purchased + hung curtains in our apartment
I weathered a typhoon or two

I got outside and adventured more
I created + launched my own sponsorship program
I redesigned my blog four times [at least]
dated my Husband, on occasion
I worked on scheduling my time to get more done
I ate a lot of bacon while in the US
I set + achieved goals with weekly wishes

I asked for help when I needed it
I learned more about myself and how I operate
I packed for a weekend trip in one small backpack
I completed a 52 weeks project
I filled up that journal I began in January
I shot this ridiculous end-of-year self photoshoot
I found five dollars, literally

phew. of course there were things I didn't do this year and ways I'd like to improve, but today we are celebrating the positives. I wasn't perfect, but I was pretty awesome. hopefully you aren't annoyed or intimidated by this list, but feeling inspired to create your own. [I mean... if squat toilets and bacon count as awesome, then I think it's safe you assume you can dig up some good from your 2013.]

look back through your journal or your blog archives, even your Facebook feed, and I promise you will find things. nothing is too big or small. you watched the entire series of Battlestar Galactica? awesome. you finally cleaned out your closet? awesome. bought a stranger a cup of coffee, read a new book, adopted a kitten? awesome, awesome, awesome. make your list, and then tell me! because I want to know: how were YOU awesome this year?


12 photos of Christmas

I wanted to open this post with a picture of an almost-but-not-quite holiday sign, like I did last year. that one said "MERRI XMIS" and the one I found this year said "MARRY XAMS." but. it appears the store in which the sign was hanging discovered their mistake and fixed it by the time I went back to snap a photo. so instead, Christmas roses. [the school sells them as a fundraiser, and Husband brought some home for me again this year.]

even though Husband had to work and all our family was far away, we still had a fantastic Christmas. we decided to keep it low-key and stay in this year, and have a couple friends over to join us.

I was skeptical about the pre-cooked turkey dinner we ordered from the import grocery store. the sales person described it to us as "turkey, with vegetable, pizza, and red wine juice sauce." Taiwan's take on American food follows the almost-but-not-quite rule, so just in case it turned out to be inedible, I prepared some appetizers and sides.

[side note: my inner food photographer is cringing at the lighting in these photos. but I can't make the sun shine inside my apartment on a December night, so I'm letting it go.]

we started with Mexican layer dip [beans, salsa, cheese, olives, green onion... no sour cream or guacamole but I'll take it] and this baked spinach artichoke dip. I almost cried this dip was so good. soooo, so good. so good that I just had to get up and have some leftovers because I was thinking about it.

I'll be sharing the recipe with you all soon, because it's too amazing not to share.

the boys brought home the boxed meal [apparently it came from a hotel in Taichung] and we opened it up to investigate. I think the most hilarious part was the shrimp and corn pizzas... which we did not eat. we also skipped on the vegetable. but the gravy, stuffing, and turkey were fair game.

we had ourselves a feast. the turkey was quite tasty, and we have leftovers for making soup. the "red wine juice sauce" that the sales person had described to us... was cranberry sauce. I made green bean casserole from scratch [another recipe I'll have to share,] and we had plenty of wine and whiskey on hand. it was a delicious meal, and I think the start of a new tradition.

our holiday outside of the food was pretty amazing as well. I know presents aren't the point of Christmas, but I'm excited about what I got: Husband ordered me a box of camera gadget goodies from Photojojo, and I got plenty of gluten-free food items, candy, and even some beauty booty!

I hope you all had a great holiday, and I can't wait to see how you celebrated.

[PS: ad spots are still on sale until tomorrow with the code HOLLYJOLLY25!]


Merry Christmas!

it's already Christmas morning here in Taiwan. we've opened our stockings and unwrapped our presents and devoured a pancake breakfast. we've watched the Christmas classics such as Die Hard and the Nightmare before Christmas. and yes, Husband has to work today. but we are preparing a Christmas feast for this evening.

I just wanted to pop in and wish you all a very merry holiday [whichever ones you may be celebrating] and give you a little present. all ad spaces are 25% off for the next few days when you use the code HOLLYJOLLY25. I'm booked for this month [!!!] but spots are still available for January.

warm wishes + big internet hugs from me to you


Bangkok// The Grand Palace [part 1]

the Grand Palace in Bangkok is an enormous complex of temples, museums, and government buildings. we spent a few hours wandering there after our visit to Ayutthaya, until our feet were sore and my camera batteries were dead. I still managed to capture a TON of pictures. enough that this will have to be a 2-part post.

first things first: when you visit the Grand Palace you must follow proper ettiquite. you cannot enter the grounds unless your shoulders and legs are covered. I wore a tshirt + long skirt, but the boys had to rent pants to pull on over their shorts. you should come prepared - either already covered, with a wrap in your bag, or ready to rent.

once you are properly attired and on the grounds, you have to buy tickets to enter the specific areas of the palace. I don't think we made it to everything our ticket covered, but the palace was packed and we still saw plenty. most of our time was spent exploring the area around the Temple of the Emerald Buddha [also known as Wat Phra Kaew.]

when you first enter the temple area, you can't help but notice the three main pagodas which include an enormous golden chedi and the stupa of the library building. these three spires are surrounded by other shrines, statues, and decorated buildings.

the entire temple complex is surrounded by a wall and forms a giant courtyard, with these painted demon warrior statues standing guard at the various gates around the perimeter.

the details in the tilework and decoration on the buildings is simply stunning. the royal family used to live in the Grand Palace complex and it is still used today for important functions - so you can understand why Wat Phra Kaew is one of the most opulent temples in Bangkok.

if you've been to Cambodia this carving might look familiar - it's a model of Angkor Wat. it was one of my favorite things on the pavillion. even though it isn't painted or covered in mirrors and gold, the detail in the carving is just incredible.

and that's all of the Grand Palace that I have to share for today. I'll be back next week with part two, which involves more gold and more demons. until then- happy travels!


some exciting news!

I decided that it was finally time for me to man up and open my Pasionfruit Ads shop. that's right, my sponsorship options are now for sale! there are two options available, both at very budget-friendly prices. you can purchase them straight from my new sponsorship page, or head over to my profile in the Passionfruit marketplace.

I tried telling myself that friday is a bad day to launch, that people won't be reading blogs or buying ads over the next few holiday weeks, etc etc. but eventually I ran out of excuses and just decided to go for it. [which might have had a little to do with the awesome support you guys always show me.]

I've been working on setting up sponsorships for a while, and though I am really nervous to start I am also unbelievably excited!

you'll also notice things are looking a little different around here. I had originally planned to write you a post on the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but I fell down the blog design rabbit hole this morning.

yesterday, Kate posted these great resources for blog designers and I knew it meant my blog-tweaking itch must be scratched. I found a palette on Design Seeds, made my first ever image map, and here we are! I've kept the same tall films font I've been using, so hopefully you don't feel too lost.

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend, possibly decide to hang out on my sidebar for a bit, and let me know what you think of the new design. happy friday!


growth, gratitude, and support.

I'm one of those people who always gets reflective in December. I like to look back and take stock of what's happened, see what I crossed off my to-do list. and inevitably, what I haven't done.

2012 was quite a year for me. quitting my job, moving to the other side of the world, battling culture shock and scooter-crash injuries... it was tough. and at the end of it I felt heavily that there was still much to be done. I wrote this on December 30th last year:

I had a lot of expectations about where 2012 would take me. Taiwan... was definitely not on that list. from the moment we arrived here, it has been a learning experience. eyes opened. fears faced. stereotypes smashed. more than I had imagined, and sometimes less. it hasn't all been pleasant or comfortable, and at times was downright terrifying. but that's life. progress. growth.
 and while I've grown immensely in our time here, there is still much I want to accomplish. lucky for me - there's a whole new year just ahead in which to do it.

>> which brings us to 2013. <<

if I could sum up 2013 in one word, that word would be: growth. I'm not even sure I can properly explain to you just how much I've grown, or in what ways. I'm stronger, more confident, and more myself than I've been in years. I'm older and wiser. and I'm finally starting to figure things out. who I am and where I'm going - or at least where I could go.

none of that would have been possible if not for the opportunities and people who were there for me this past year...

1. my Husband: he supports me both financially and otherwise. he works, and I don't. but we are in a place that allows us to live off a single income and still save and travel. last January we traveled to Thailand and the Philippines. while we were there, I started keeping a journal, and through that writing I began this process of growth and self-discovery. when I feel unsure about something, I know I can talk to him and he will reassure me of my strength and capability, and tell me to "go for it." every crazy idea I've had over the past year [or really, ever] of "maybe I could do this" he has supported me and encouraged me to chase my dreams.

2. the blogging community and my readers: all of you lovely people with your comments and your tweets and your emails. you make me smile every day. I know I already wrote an entire post thanking you, but it should be said again. and in particular I would like to thank the expat bloggers out there - you've shown me that I'm not alone. I don't remember the exact date that I discovered Chelsea was following me on twitter and I decided to check out her blog, but it was a life-changing moment. why had I never thought to look for other expat bloggers? she was the first one I ever found, and since then I've fallen in love with ladies all over the globe. life in Taiwan can be tough sometimes, but knowing I'm not the only one going through these struggles has been an immense comfort to me.

3. Everyday Happy: I was brave enough to sign up for Melyssa and Erika's e-course, and I'm so glad that I did. not just for what I learned through the course itself, but for the people it brought into my life. my course buddy, Rebecca, was wonderfully supportive throughout the course, and even mailed me a package full of happy things. and it was ultimately a conversation with another participant, Codi, that pushed me into buying a passionfruit memebership to start offering sponsorships [which are coming soon, I swear.] during the course, I started keeping a gratitude journal. I've not been great at doing it every day... but it has helped me to focus more on the good things in life.

4. family and friends: this one is another that bears repeating. movie-going and potlucks and game nights, skype dates and emails and 3-way chats have helped keep me sane this year when things got tough. for those back home... during the time we spent together this summer, I learned so much about myself and how I've grown through this experience. but mostly, I love the way you accept me with all my quirks and crazy plans and ever-changing ideas. when I shared this post declaring myself to be a writer, I was terrified. but the response was overwhelming, in a very positive way. every person I've told about my plans to write a book has been supportive and promised to buy a copy. [and I'm going to hold you to it! kidding... or maybe not completely kidding.]

5. coffee: wait, just hear me out. I'm writing this post while sitting in Starbucks and drinking a coffee poured by a barista that knows my name + order the moment I step through the door. this coffeeshop has become my safe haven for writing. a place where I can go to shut out the world, pretend that I'm anywhere in the world, and it feels like mine. if writing in Starbucks is a cliche, it is one I will happily fulfill. because they accept me here.

all of this to say... what I am most grateful for this year, is support.

I've accomplished a lot this year. I overcame a knee injury to train for and run a ten mile race. I traveled to five countries. I grew my blog by over 100%. and I embraced the idea of being a writer. I'm proud of myself, because a lot of that is on me and my efforts. but it wouldn't have been possible without those who helped me along the way.

I'm glad that I've grown enough as a person to be able to ask for support when I need it, and incredibly grateful for the people I have in my life who have provided me that support. I've always been independent and considered myself self-sufficient, but there's only so much a person can do on their own. thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for getting me through 2013. whether you helped in a large or small way, I truly couldn't have done it without you.

[linking up with Erika for the December grad-itude post]


my Taiwanese dinosaur disco Christmas tree

it's December. I'm pretty sure you all have realized that. if not from your calendars, then from the overwhelming amount of holiday being blogged and pinned and instagrammed all over the place.

living in a country that is not predominantly Christian has had some serious effects on how I celebrate the holidays. one major way - my ability to find Christmas decorations. I have found them. but not the selection I was used to in the states. and certainly not always the quality or style that I would prefer.

seeing everyone else's perfectly styled and color-coordinated trees on the internet has made me feel a little Charlie Brown. it's hard not to compare. but even though my tree is skimpy on the branches, heavy on the lights, and has no theme other than "here's the best I could do" or maybe "dinosaurs and disco balls"... I love it. in all its lopsided glory.

partially because it only cost me $8 US. but mostly because... it's mine.

and just so you know: under the presents is a Transformers pillowcase we use for a tree skirt. we have a beautiful handmade one that my mother-in-law gave us... but it's back in the states in a rubbermaid bin along with all of my christmas cookie cutters and our beautiful glass ornaments [the ones that wren't broken by the cats, at least.]

we have ornaments that were sent to us by family [the grinch was handmade by my nephews] along with that giant pile of presents sent to us by loved ones. yeah, we've got it pretty good.

last year I made yarn pom pom ornaments to decorate out tree, and created these dino ornaments from keychains we picked up at the Taichung science museum. this year, I found some plastic rainbow disco balls. I think they go better with the dinosaurs.

celebrating holidays while living abroad can be hard, but we do the best we can to keep the expat holiday blues away. Christmas in Taiwan isn't what we grew up on, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. I think our tree is the perfect representation of the blending of "home" and "here" that our traditions have become.

[linking up with Belinda and Bailie for the Expat Q&A]


end of the year goals: 2013

as the end of the year approaches, I get more and more contemplative. or as I told Husband the other day: retrospective + introspective. you can expect several posts relating to these themes in the coming weeks, as I look back on 2013 and head into the new year.

I've achieved a LOT this year, but of course I never find time to cross everything off my list. with only two weeks left and Husband's birthday/ Christmas celebrations coming up, I know I won't have unlimited time to devote... so I'm doing some prioritizing on what I can reasonably do that will help me kick off 2014 right. it's all about wrapping things up and laying the groundwork for next year.

with that in mind, here are my goals to accomplish by the end of the year:

1. print and fill out this workbook on unravelling the year ahead. I went through 2013 without a plan, and it turned out to be exactly what I needed at the time. it gave me the freedom to grow and to dream... but now it's time to make those dreams real. this intention-setting notebook seems like the perfect place to start.

2. set up my sponsorship page and open up ad sales for the blog. this whole sponsorship thing is a little scary. I want to do it right, but if I wait until I feel it's "perfect" I'll never start. I know I would tweak and nit-pick until the end of time... so I'm going to launch by the end of the year, ready or not.

3. create a writing schedule, and stick to it. the past few weeks I have not been a very good writer. to be honest, I'm struggling with just how personal this book should get, and trying to decide if I can actually write about my own life or if I need to fictionalize and just use real life for inspiration. and instead of writing and worrying about editing/overhauling later when I figure it out... I just stopped writing.

4. finish my journal, and purchase a new one for 2014. I didn't start journaling until our trip to Thailand in late January. but I've only got 25 pages left in my journal, and I get OCD about keeping these things neat and tidy. so I'm going to fill it up and start fresh with the new year.

5. complete my 52 weeks photo project. I haven't decided if I'll do another next year, whether with instax again or digital. I've contemplated doing another self-portrait theme. or maybe 52 weeks of dragons? I guess deciding what [if any] project to tackle next year should be part of this goal as well.

I also think I'm going to make my weekly wishes posts every other week, or maybe twice a month. I love the support of the linkup, but I think fewer posts with more big-picture goals will be a better formula for me. [speaking of - I accomplished all of my goals from my last wishes post. though the transferring of the phone happened just today.]

what are you looking to accomplish by the end of 2013?


Ayutthaya // Wat Maha That + the Buddha in a tree

Wat Maha That was the last temple site that we visited in Ayutthaya. this Wat is by far the most popular attraction in the ruined city. the main reason why people love to visit this particular temple ruin? the buddha head in the tree.

the buddha head was removed from one of the statues when the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya in the late 1700s. it must have fallen or been moved to the base of this wall, and the tree roots grew around it. I always find it interesting when nature starts to reclaim what man has built. what makes this site unique is that the roots have grown to cradle the head but don't cover the face, which almost makes it look... intentional.

proper etiquitte requires you to always have your head lower than the head of the buddha, especially when taking photos. so everyone huddles on the ground around this tree when taking pictures... it's quite a sight. I pretty much had to crawl through a horde of Japanese tourists to get up to the barrier and take this shot. but, worth the dirty knees I think.

the rest of the complex was still impressive [if partially sinking into the ground in spots.] parts were under restoration, but there were plenty of crumbling stupas and chedis left to explore. and buddhas. I hope you guys aren't tired of seeing buddha pictures... because this temple was covered in buddhas.

Wat Maha That is a must-see if you are visiting Ayutthaya, if only for the buddha head in the tree. I would suggest making it your first stop to beat the crowds, and definitely try to get there before noon. we arrived just before several buses of tourists, and had to navigate around group tours as we explored the grounds.

there are other sites to visit in Ayutthaya, but we only spent our morning exploring the ruined city. that afternoon we went back to Bangkok to see the Grand Palace - a giant theological / governmental complex very much not in ruins. [don't worry, there's still more Thailand to come.] until then, happy travels!
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