Happy (belated) Christmas! I hope you all have been enjoying the holiday season with your family and friends. I know I have!

Here are the amazing presents I gave and received this year:

For the person I’m seeing: Diego and I exchanged gifts about two weeks ago. I got him socks and a Sega Megadrive controller that connects to your mobile phone that you use as the media screen.

For my brothers: I got Ryan a scuba diving mask and snorkel and I got Kyle a small drone. I also got them both a framed picture of the three of us from when they visited last summer.

For my dog: I got Bailey a doggie Christmas dinner and a new tug toy.

For my parents: I got my mom some Eden perfume and my dad some tools (that have yet to arrive, even though I ordered them plenty early, ugh).

From the person I’m seeing: For Christmas, Diego got me an Architects shirt and an adorable hummingbird watercolor painting.

From my brothers: Kyle got me and electric kettle, because Americans are Neanderthals and don’t consider it a common household item. Ryan got me a bunch of Lush stuff, I’m especially fond of the shampoo bar!

From my parents: Spotify for a year, $30 for books (already spent, obviously), Chipotle gift card, Minus the Bear shirt, reef guide, action camera (the poor man’s GoPro), money and more!

From my grandparents and extended family: Money, money, money! Most certainly towards buying a dive computer. My auntie also got me All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot… I usually wouldn’t trust people to pick out a book for me, but they really nailed it on the head! I’m really looking forward to reading it and sobbing my eyes out.

What was your favorite gift you got for Christmas?

Photo by Element5 Digital.

Follow:

Tomorrow is Christmas, it’s practically here! 

I can’t believe it, this year went by so quickly. For those of you who missed the memo, I’m home in Arizona again now that I’ve finished my Master’s degree. I’ve been running around doing errands, relaxing and getting in the Christmas spirit.

With that, here are some of my favorite Christmas blog posts written by you!

Eco-friendly

Traditions

Gift guides and wishlists

Food and drink

Miscellaneous

Happy Christmas!

Photo by freestocks.org.

 

 

 

Follow:

I’m really pushing the mid-month thing, aren’t I?

I will post my favorite Christmas posts on Christmas Eve (in three days!), but for now, here are the non-related Christmas posts from the last month.

Here are my top five posts from all categories:

  1. 10 AirBNBs we are lusting after: After discovering Bird Island AirBNB, I’m obsessed with finding unique places to stay, even if they’re only a pipedream.
  2. My year in travel photos: I adore these posts; I made my own even if it’s not as impressive as this one!
  3. 5 habits for a less stressful week: I especially love the idea of a “get shit done” day.
  4. 10 unique holidays to try in 2019: I’m a bit “meh” about “places to go in 2019” because they sometimes stress me out with all the places to go and chronological pressure. Why 2019? Why not 2020 or 2030? This post is fun and light and explores new ways to travel rather than places.
  5. Top ten LiveAboard tips: I made my own post like this a bit ago after doing my own LiveAboard trip this time last year. I can’t wait to go again next year!

General travel and study abroad

Travel destinations

Lifestyle

Entertainment

Blogging

Photo by Andrew Knechel.

Follow:

I’m back, back, back again in the U.S... kind of. I’m writing this from Calgary airport as I wait for my flight back to Phoenix soon.

I have a lot of mixed emotions about leaving the U.K., the most overwhelming one feeling like it was all some weird fever dream. Although for a lot of reasons this year was more down-to-earth than my year abroad (I worked, paid for most everything myself, didn’t travel as much, etc.), it still doesn’t feel real. Additionally, on my year abroad, I knew I had to come back to at least finish my last year of university. I hoped that getting my Master’s degree in the U.K. would allow me to stay on after my program but sadly, that didn’t work out. Anyone who is close to me knows how upsetting this is to me, but I’m trying to roll with the punches.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share things I will and won’t miss about the U.K.

Things I will miss about the U.K.

  • My friends and Diego: I was friendly with most everyone on my course, actively made a few friends in my program and really enjoyed bonding on our field trip to South Africa in April. I’ve also made some friends through Diego, met up with new online friends, and reunited with old friends from my year abroad. It goes unsaid that I will miss Diego the most though.
  • Public transit: I love being able to go anywhere at any time, whether it’s into town by train or to the other side of the country by MegaBus. No such transit system exists in most places of the United States, certainly not Arizona. It was a privilege to have such convenient travel options.
  • Closeness of everything: I loved having a lot of what I need from a five minute walk to the shops to a short hop on the bus into town.
  • Bathroom stalls: I’ve just used the toilet here at the Calgary airport and already miss the ceiling-to-floor stall doors in the U.K., I feel so exposed.
  • Travel: In addition to convenient traveling within the country, it was also easy and affordable to travel to other European countries. With the airport only half an hour away by train, budget flights for as little as $50 and quick flights to the mainland, it was easy to explore more of Europe.
  • Vegetarian food: Especially in the last few years, I never had a massive problem eating as a vegetarian, but in the U.K., it’s so much easier and more convenient than it is in the U.S. I will especially miss Linda McCartney’s sausage rolls.
  • Casual drinking: Pubs and general casual drinking aren’t as much of a thing in the U.S. How I will miss Spoons.
  • Nights out: How am I going to live without alternative music nights?!

Things I won’t miss about the U.K.

  • Everything about driving: I had a car for six months and while it was a massive help, I hated driving in the U.K., mainly because the roads are so curved it takes twice as long to travel the same distance in the U.K. as it would in the U.S. and the roads are a lot smaller, I always felt claustrophobic.
  • The rain: Although some light rain is a small price to pay for relatively mild year-round weather, it always comes at the worst time! Like this morning when I had to walk through town in it with 100lbs of luggage.
  • London trips: I recognized how grossly spoiled I am to be able to say that I’m not the biggest fan of London. Although it’s fun and exciting the first few times, London is very busy, crowded and full of cheesy tourist attractions. It’s not my favorite place in the world.
  • Daylight hours: Winter has been absolutely miserable for me. The sun “rises” at about 8AM and sets before 4PM… and even during daylight hours, it’s usually extremely overcast this time of the year. It has me feeling really down and I can’t wait to get some sunshine again.
  • Lack of opportunities: Since before I even arrived, it was always hard to live as a foreigner, even someone from a relatively similar country. I’m slapped with some extra fees (tuition, housing deposit, car insurance, etc.), have to jump through a few extra loops for administrative purposes and employment and after all that effort, I still wasn’t able to stay. I hope the U.K. seriously revises their immigration laws for international U.K. graduates like myself who have worked hard to contribute to the community and academia.

Photo by Hamish Duncan.

 

Follow:

Next in the yearly round-up is… books!

My last round-up was actually in July 2017, as July 2016 is when I started my Months in Review posts, so this post will actually cover books from August 2017.

I can’t believe I did it, but I also completed my 2018 GoodReads reading challenge of 24 books! It wasn’t looking great (I had about 15 books read by October), but with the quick read of the Harry Potter series helped me get my feet back and put seven books quickly under my belt.

Also, a few months ago, I cleaned out and organized my GoodReads account, so check out that post if you haven’t already!

First, a little bit about how I rate my books:

  • (★★★★★): One of my new favorite books of all-time
  • (★★★★): Really enjoyed it
  • (★★★): Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it
  • (★★): Barely finished it

Without further ado, here is my Year (and a bit) in Books are in reverse chronological order…

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (★★): About what would happen in nature if humans suddenly disappeared. Some interesting bits, especially as Arizona got a lot of shouts, but nothing memorable.

Replay by Ken Grimwood (★★★★): Such an interesting premise: man dies and wakes up in his 18-year-old body and another chance at life. The cycle continues as he wakes up later and later in his life and meets a fellow replay-er along the way. Kind of like Groundhog Day, but good.

How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee (★★★★): This book is really interested and easy to read about the exhaustive environmental impact of everything from (you guessed it) bananas to a nuclear explosion.

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay (★★★): Non-fiction.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (★★★★★): Crime thriller.

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer (★★★★): Not only does this talk about factory farming but also animal testing, which I didn’t know much about.

Why Is Sex Fun? by Jared Diamond (★★★): Popular science.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah (★★★★): A good WWII historical fiction, but The Storyteller is better.

Memory Man by David Baldacci (★★★★★): Such an interesting premise of a man who remembers everything and uses it to solve his family’s murder.

The Pact by Jodi Picoult (★★): Fiction.

Dead Zone by Phillip Lymbery (★★★★): Popular science.

Farmageddon by Phillip Lymbery (★★★★): Popular science.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (★★★): Fiction.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (★★★★★): Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I have read two other books by Krakauer and enjoyed them, but this one left me speechless. This book is a recollection of what happened in the 1996 Everest disaster and left me on the edge of my seat throughout and gasping for air at the climax. I cannot recommend this book enough, probably my favorite book I’ve read this year.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (★★★): I remember thinking this book escalated (and deescalated) really quickly, I wish it was a bit longer as it’s a really interesting concept.

The Shining by Stephen King (★★★): Actually, my least favorite book by him. It wasn’t as scary as people lead on. I might have liked it more if it wasn’t so hyped.

Wide Open by Gracie X (★★★): Biography.

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro (★★★): A dystopia novel about kids growing up in a secretive boarding school as they try to find out the meaning of their existence. While the story of the kids growing up in this school was interesting, what happened to them once they got out was anti-climactic. It was a bit emotional, but if you were looking for a book that ended with a bang, this wasn’t it.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay (★★★★★): This book is about a junior doctor’s journey through the ranks at the hospital through humorous encounters with colleagues and patients. This book had me laughing out loud, after a few chapters I realized I couldn’t read it on the bus. To my recollection, this is the first memoir I’ve read and I was not let down.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (★★★★): Yes, I read these for the very first time. My client’s son and daughter-in-law were watching the series over a period of a couple of weeks and made me what to immerse myself into the magical world for the first time since the last saga movie came out. I enjoyed the books and all the detail in them compared to the movies, it was really well thought out. I reserve my five-star reviews for my all-time favorite books, so Harry Potter fans, don’t jump down my throat for the four-star review. At the end of the day, the target audience is children and I’m not a child. Not to mention, the author is problematic.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (★★★): I was reading this book holding out for a twist or at least something somewhat profound and it never came. Too bad.

Room by Emma Donogue (★★★★): Anyone who has seen the movie knows it’s a masterpiece. The book is genius and really evokes thought.

Sweet Home by Carys Bray (★★★): As a collection of short stories, this isn’t usually the type of book I’d go for. But it’s a quick read for anyone looking to expand their horizons.

To my surprise, I met my 2018 reading goal of 24 books! I know that’s not much, but I hope to get back into reading properly again in 2019. I hope to read 30 books (baby steps).

What were your favorite reads this year?

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T

Follow: