2019 Favorites: The Best and Biggest Changes in My Life This Year

Good morning beautiful friends and family,

Man, it’s been a while! I’ve been wanting to put out a new blog post for so long, but just couldn’t find the words. It’s almost like when you haven’t seen a friend in years, and when you finally catch up you have no idea where to start. My life has changed so much this year! Where do I even begin?

But yesterday morning, I was reading Carly the Prepster’s blog and her annual list of favorite things. It gave me that wonderful, warm feeling that blogs so often gave me back when I started. So what better next step than to steal her idea? (Kidding. Sort of.) As a way to catch up and get reacquainted, I want to share my favorite, most meaningful, or most memorable parts of 2019 with you, with some little updates sprinkled in between.

Let’s jump in.

One // Marriage

Okay, y’all knew I had to start here because wedding posts are literally half of everything I blogged this year. But can I just say that actually being married is so different, and so much better, than I ever expected?

Ken and me in front of a train on our way to the Efteling theme park

Ken and me in front of a train on our way to the Efteling theme park

Ken and I lived together for three years before we tied the knot, and we had already merged finances and bought a home together when I moved to the Netherlands. Honestly, as sentimental as I am (and as much as I believe in marriage), I didn’t think that the day-to-day experience of our relationship would change much after we were married. After all, if you already share a life and plan to for the rest of your lives — could it make such a big difference? But to my surprise, it really has. I’ve never in my whole life been so happy, laughed so much, or had so much fun with someone. These days feel golden. It’s like the happiness of each day spills over into the next.

I think the change comes down to two things. First, the process of planning an international, intercultural, bilingual wedding was a bit of a crash-course in dividing responsibilities, communication, and compromise. In that sense, planning a wedding actually was a useful step in preparing for marriage.

Ken dramatically pinning our first Advent calendar piece to the tree

Ken dramatically pinning our first Advent calendar piece to the tree

Second: I think “this” — us — feels permanent in a new way now. I was recently talking to a Dutch friend around my age about why I had wanted to get married. Marriage isn’t as much of a “given” here as it is in the US (my singing teacher even once asked me “Why are you getting married?” when I told her I was engaged. This was our second ever lesson. Can you imagine?).

I told my friend that marriage vows in themselves are kind of absurdly brash. Life is chaotic, unpredictable, and uncontrollable; and as life changes, so do we.

Ken and I have been together for eight years, and after the international moves, happy and unhappy surprises, and life experiences those years have brought us, we are different people than we were when we met. That will continue to be true for the rest of our lives. So to find a person and say: “No matter what life throws at us, no matter how you change or how I change, I will love you. We will face it together” — that’s a bold promise. And maybe a slightly foolish one; after all, we really don’t know how we, our partners, and our lives will change. But this vow is a way to focus your eyes as life happens around you. Ken is the clarity I make in the chaos. I don’t know how our lives will go, but I know that he is the place I want to make home. Things will not always be as easy as they are now; we will not always be this abundantly, effervescently happy. But we promise to love each other anyway. We can count on that.

That feeling of settledness, of permanence, has brought a new kind of freedom to our relationship. I think we both feel free to be our fullest selves when we’re together, in an unexpectedly even richer way than before. It’s a beautiful, happy time. I know that we’ll one day look back on these years and think, “Those were the good old days. And oh my God, we look so young!”

Two // Health

On to other life changes! I’ve been trying to focus on improving my health (activity, nutrition, emotional health, etc) since the end of 2016. Truly changing your habits means changing your life, and it takes a really long time for that kind of shift to feel normal. But the way I live now — eating balanced meals, only having sweets and junk food on occasion, having a healthier relationship with food and my body, working out 3-5 times a week — really does feel like my baseline. And honestly, I’m so happy!

I think the biggest shift, if I compare my life now to 2016, is my activity level. A big part of the reason I wanted to change my habits in 2016 was because I started to have regular, pretty nasty injuries. I wanted to start working out regularly so I could be more fit, have more stamina, and reduce my risk for injury. While a big part of the change I’ve made has resulted in weight loss, that’s not the part I want to focus on right now. Instead I want to tell you about how I feel.

I can honestly say, at the end of 2019, that I love being active. I feel like my stamina, energy levels, and the amount of fun that I have when working out, are all so much higher than they were when I started. From running, to weight lifting, to cardio machines, to an increased level of everyday activity, I feel such a difference.

Cut to this spring. When I started a new desk job last January, I had a harder time getting to the gym and, after five months, ended up getting a really bad back injury. That was a wake-up call for me — it made me realize that, if I go back to my old habits, I will also go back to my old injuries. After recovering from my back injury (which took, unfortunately, 3-4 months to fully heal), I made exercise and fitness one of my top priorities. I’m working out at least 3 times a week, walking at least 45 minutes each day (#DutchLife), and haven’t had any back pain since the summer. In hindsight, I’m actually really grateful that injury happened. It reminded me that for my body, exercise and fitness will always need to be a priority.

If there’s interest I’d be happy to share more about my fitness journey (and/or weight loss), so if that’s something you’d like to hear more about, please let me know! But for now, I’m just really excited to bring my energy and healthy habits into the new year.

Three // Job Changes and Growth

Speaking of my new job, many of you know that I started my first full-time position as a software engineer in January. Some 2019 career highlights include:

  • A year-long mentorship with a senior figure at Microsoft,
  • Joining the editorial team of a well-known web industry magazine,
  • Being shortlisted as one of the “top under-26’s in digital in the Netherlands,” and
  • Being invited to multiple tech conferences this year, including a Google event in Madrid!

Me at one of the conferences I was invited to this year, with a fake neck tattoo of the Apple command symbol

At one of the tech conferences I was invited to this year. The tattoo is a temp.

I have grown so, so much in terms of my technical skills and abilities this year. Equally important, though, is that I now know better what I want in a job. I decided that the company I worked for in 2019 wasn’t the right place for me to keep growing, so this fall I started looking for other opportunities and ended up finding a really great, exciting company where I really felt like I fit. I’ll start in January, and I’m already so excited to be a part of this new team! In fact, after I finish this blog post, I’m going to get ready for their holiday party tonight.

Four // Friends

Y’all. MY FRIENDS ARE THE ABSOLUTE BEST. The week of my wedding was the happiest of my life — not only because I was marrying Ken, but because I got to spend the days before the wedding together with my best friends and bridesmaids.

My friends and bridesmaids

My friends and bridesmaids

We rented out a local inn, and spent the days before the wedding hanging out, exploring Amsterdam, celebrating, and catching up. To spend that time with them, all of us together, was a wonderful and amazing experience that I’ll always be grateful for.

These women are the funniest, most thoughtful, most loyal, warmest, and best people I have ever known. I truly could not be more grateful for them. They are my family. Any future children of mine will be blessed beyond measure to have this circle of passionate, intelligent, loving, and slightly intimidating aunts as their godmothers, family friends, and role models. I’m so grateful to have this kind of chosen family.

Five // Spirituality and Faith

Funnily enough, the wedding week was a turning point for me in more ways than one. Ken was scheduled to start his master’s program this fall (he’s now studying for his last exam of the semester, to be taken this afternoon). Hearing our friends and family ask him over and over about his plans — how excited he was, what we was more looking forward to — sparked a strange feeling in me.

It wasn’t jealousy. But it was a kind of longing — one for pursuing the thing I love most, in the same way that he is now. You all know that I studied Religion in college (and spent quite a few years writing creative devotionals for my job!). As much as I really love my life in tech, a part of my soul missed writing and working with faith. I’m thinking long-term — no big career overhauls now (and not for a few years!). But I feel like I’m slowly being led into something new, and at the same time coming home to something that’s always been in me. If you, too, are a person of faith, I would really appreciate your prayers or good thoughts as I do my best to figure that out!

I also want to say that figuring this out has brought me so much happiness and purpose in the last few months. In general, I feel that the past half year or so has been a “homecoming” for me in many ways — to who I am, to what I want, to the things I love. I feel vibrantly happy and alive, and this is a big part of that. Wherever this takes me, I’m so grateful to be where I am right now.

Six // My Dad

Another big one! A few months before the wedding, when I was talking with my dad about walking me down the aisle, I realized that I wanted to work on our relationship.

My dad and I have always been close. When I was little, he would help me pursue every one of my interests, from teaching me to sketch when I was into fashion design, to buying me books and magazines about the things I loved, to reading to me every night. When I was in high school, he helped me study for big exams, and when I procrastinated on a hard assignment, I’d go work in his room to focus as he put on some nice music and did work himself. I have a thousand happy memories from growing up in my parents’ house.

But as you get older, relationships change, and I felt like we had grown apart in the years since I’d gone away to college. I wanted to feel when he walked me down the aisle that he knew me as I was now, and that our relationship was as healthy and vibrant as it had been when I was 8 and 12 and 16. I’m so lucky that I have a dad who would really listen to a wish like that, and take it so seriously. We’ve now been calling every week on FaceTime since that first conversation where I talked about it, and I really feel our relationship has never been better. I feel so lucky to be able to have that kind of relationship with both of my parents as an adult. For me, my relationship with my dad has really been one of the most special and important aspects of my whole year.

A bridge in beautiful southern Spain!

A bridge in beautiful southern Spain!

Seven // Travel

On to the less personal things that made this year special! I had the privilege to unexpectedly travel to Spain not once, but twice this year! The first was to visit my wonderful soul-friend Aili, who lives in southern Spain, for Easter in the spring. I bought the ticket just two days before going, so it was a spontaneous trip that ended up being so special for both of us. Spain is a beautiful country and, while visiting, I really came to understand why she had fallen so in love with it.

Then in September, as I mentioned, I got to fly out for a Google summit in Madrid. I had such a great time at the summit, but also loved the chance to explore some of Spain’s more famous sites, including the Prado. I also got to spend another day in southern Spain with Aili at the end of my trip. All in all, this was an unexpected and beautiful highlight of my year, and I hope I get to visit again soon!

Eight // Singing

Especially with the wedding and with Ken starting a full-time master’s program, I’ve been pretty careful with unnecessary extra spending this year. But while financial responsibility is important, I also craved the chance to indulge my time in a new hobby this year. I love singing and always have, but never felt like I had the time or financial resources to invest in lessons. When my aunt and uncle offered to pay for my first singing lesson for my birthday, I took them up on it and started taking lessons every other week.

What I love most about lessons is that it’s such a new and different form of self-expression for me. It’s been so fun to really let loose in music, and do something creative that has nothing to do with my work. I’m really glad I made room for it this year, and I plan to continue in 2020!

When I look back at where I was in 2018, I feel as though I’m almost a new person, in a new stage of my life. The changes I’ve been through, from getting married, to starting a new career, to changing my day to day habits, have been huge. But at the same time, I feel like every year that I get older, I become more and more like the person I was when I was 10. I’m still messy and loud and creative and sensitive. I still love to write, draw, and sew. My family and friends are still my top priority. So while this is a new stage of life for me, I also see the threads of continuity drawing out constants in my life and person. And I can’t wait to see what changes and homecomings the new year brings.

Sara Laughed

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a writer, programmer, and American in the Netherlands. This blog is about my life, discoveries, and mistakes. Follow along, and thank you for stopping by!

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  • This post put a huge smile on my face. It sounds silly, but I’m so glad this year has been good for you and best of luck for the next 🙂