A dozen months ago I promised myself that the storms of 2015 were behind me. I also said I would try to meet the storms of 2016 head on.
And damn, that is harder than it sounds. Much harder than I thought. Have you faced into the wind of a storm lately? Have you felt its icy bite bring tears to your eyes and sear the edges of your earlobes? Where I am in Brazil our storms aren’t so cold, but they are equally vicious.
The wind howls just as loudly here and the rain can be just as relentless.
In some respects, this has been my stormiest year yet. It marked my first year living abroad in Brazil, which comes with plenty of adjustments. Some people call this “learning to navigate a new culture.” I disagree. I don’t think you can navigate a culture. There’s no Google Maps for people’s minds, their habits, their long-held beliefs.
I believe patient observation is your best chance of not going crazy.
Try to navigate a culture with a set of fixed directions and you’ll probably end up making a gross amount of wrong turns. I know I have. This year I’ve stumbled over more words than my two-year-old nephew and I’ve felt like having as many meltdowns as him trying to comprehend a different way of life.
A Luta Continua...The Fight Continues
But it hasn’t all been tears (or tantrums, thankfully). It hasn’t all been howling winds and dark nights. I’ve learned to find peace in the present moment. Or least I’m getting better at this. I’ve had many opportunities to explore this year, both here in Brazil and in other countries. For me, new experiences (preferably ones in the open air) are the best thing to dull the pain of life's storms, to keep the bullshit from making you crazy. Here are some moments when I found peace and joy. Some were extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Others were waiting just out my front door.
1. Finding this tree in a downtown park
The branches are so heavy they need metal supports to keep growing. There are always Brazilians gathered here taking a break from life. I could sit here all day. Hell, I could build a treehouse and live in it here.
2. Finding this ad in Austria for flights to my home state of New Jersey
I’ve had the luck to travel to many countries but I have never, ever seen an ad for New Jersey, anywhere outside of the US. Obviously New York has the greater tourist pull, but I’d choose the Garden State any day. Although, I can’t say I’d choose Newark...
3. This museum in Zagreb, Croatia
I’ve never seen a museum with rosy pink walls displaying fine art until we stumbled upon this one in Croatia. This place had a lovely collection and was a sweet refuge on a cold, rainy February day.
4. Repairing my boots in Orvieto, Italy
I sported my new favorite boots on our trip to Europe earlier this year, and they took a beating. I wandered around this cobblestoned street town to find a place to repair them, and stumbled into a charming story. An American woman working in the store who had come to Italy years ago to study ended up marrying an Italian shoemaker, and created her life in this centuries-old town. Their work was beautiful, true to the Italian form. You can see their creations here: Frederico Badia Shoes.
5. Ice cream
I don’t count calories, and life is too short to pass up dessert. Especially when that dessert is a made-to-order Magnum ice cream bar. I requested salted pretzels, peanuts and chili pepper flakes. It was divine.
6. Bread and cheese in the highlands of Santa Catarina
I’ve already written about our trip to the Serra Gaúcha but I can’t forget the traditional Brazilian cheese bread, or pão de queijo, that I ate at this restaurant. I’ve since learned to make my own but the pão I ate here was incredible.
7. This rainbow
Not pictured are the other gorgeous cascades we saw at Foz do Iguaçu, a truly magical place. I’ve always loved to stop and appreciate nature’s phenomenons, and I plan to do that more in 2017.
8. Taking care of these two gatinhos
Milo and Lucy are troublemakers. Do not let their adorable faces fool you. I kept these two cats for some friends while they traveled and it was a joy. I know many of you cherish your pets, and hopefully you can be continually reminded that they are more than a just chore to clean up after.
9. A bike ride on the beach
Why don’t I do this more often? I often ask myself this question when I'm walking on the beach, running, or just getting outside. The answer is probably because I’m lazy. But hey, that’s what resolutions are for, right? To tell ourselves we will be less lazy in the year to come. I promise to try.
10. These American flags
I’ve found that Brazilians don’t have the same sense of patriotism. I tried explaining this to a Brazilian friend just the other day and it was obvious I had way more love of country than he ever would. That is something I’ll never be ashamed of. Seeing these flags in NYC just before Independence Day was inspiring, and I knew I was home.
The only thing more awesome than these super fun displays of explosions in the sky are the people you see them with. Not pictured: my family. But I can still see the way the fireworks lit up their faces.
12. A walk in the water
I loved exploring Fernando de Noronha, one of Brazil’s most enchanting islands. My favorite moment was on this beach just after sunrise when I took a dip without a soul in sight. Spend some time alone in nature next year. Your soul will thank you for it.
13. This storm
On the edge of the Amazon I was most captivated by this storm rolling in over a cornfield because it reminded me of home. There's a reason New Jersey is called the Garden State, and I was so glad to be reminded of that in Brazil.
14. Again, the flag
I can’t describe how amazing it was to be at the Rio Olympics, but I can say this was my favorite moment, watching Old Glory rise above the crowd at the women’s team gymnastics finals, where USA took home gold. If you ever, ever have the chance to go to the Olympics, just do it. I attended this final gymnastics event on a whim, and I will never regret it.
15. These flowers
Every time I walk to our beach in the early morning, I am grateful. But yesterday this extra surprise of a field of wildflowers put me more at peace than I expected. What's outside your door today that can make you smile? (For my sisters who may be knee-deep in snow right now...sorry, that will probably not make you smile).
I hope we can take in all the beauty from this past year and realize that the storms have passed. Yes, there will be more to come, but we’ve made it this far. Let's keep going.