reflection, wellbeing

2023 Roundup: Real Life

We’re now into the second month of 2024 and I’m coming back to my blog and realizing I’ve really neglected this space in the last couple of years. But I’ve been away for good reasons, occupied with my routines, work, learning new things, hobbies and most importantly, hanging out with people.

Ringing in the new year in Almería, I reflected on how the last year has gone. I evaluated my goals, work life, social life, and learning. All in all, I feel satisfied with my growth and can truly say it has been one of the most connected years I’ve had in a long time.

Early in 2023, I set a few short and medium term goals for myself, and one of them was to visit at least 3 countries in the year. I actually managed to visit 3 countries (technically, 4, if we count a trip back to the US) in less than 2 months in the summer, so check that off the list.

Another goal was to run a 10k race, and I started the year off great by training with my new Garmin GPS watch, joining the gym, and doing more strength training. However, this attempt was derailed by me falling hard on a practice run, which left my knee in really bad shape and my shoulder has needed several physiotherapy sessions to get back to normal. So I had to take a break from running, and now I’m trying to build my endurance again.

In other big news, I set a goal to get my Spanish driver’s license, and I passed both the written and the driving test on the first try! It’s terribly expensive and very time-consuming (it took four months), but now it’s done.

Cavia was a good autoescuela.

As always, at least for the last few years, one of my yearly goals is to read more than 30 books. In 2023 I read 35 books (Goodreads can confirm!), and these were some of my favorites:

  • Think Like a Monk
  • Glucose Goddess
  • The Evening and the Morning
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
  • East of Eden
  • Los Pacientes del Doctor García

Things that are making a difference

I can’t say I’ve lost weight, nor was that one of my goals for the year. But I do try to look for ways to take better care of myself, get stronger, and feel my best physically and mentally. Here are a few of my “discoveries” in 2023.

Liquid snacks. Rather than snack between meals, I drink a glass of chocolate milk if I feel hungry. And it’s not your normal chocolate milk, it’s YoSoy brand chocolate-hazelnut oat milk with no sugar or sugar substitutes.

Strength training. I started the year signing up for the gym, mainly to have a warm place to work out in the cold winter months. I signed up for BodyPump class and started lifting weights more regularly. This helped with endurance on runs, as well as giving me more toned arms. Yeah! I did stop going to the gym in April when the weather got better, but I bought a pair of weights and do my strength exercises at home.

Power Mondays. This past year I decided to dedicate my first work week hours to… myself. I try to wake up at my usual time (6:30 is the norm), and rather than start my classes at 7 or 7:30, I block my calendar until 9:00. I make sure to do a good workout and then spend one to two hours developing myself. Writing, coding, studying (or in 2024, maybe not coding or studying), organizing my priorities. No email, no phone. Focus time.

Cutting back on alcohol. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but here in Spain, social life goes hand in hand with drinking – even a low to moderate amount. A small beer with tapas, a glass of wine, even at home with dinner it’s fun to have a drink sometimes. In September I decided to give my body a month off, only drinking non-alcoholic beers and always drinking sparkling water at home. Since then, I’ve generally cut back with the exception of wine at the occasional dinner party. I can’t say I feel “different” since I already wasn’t drinking much, but I feel pretty good.

Eating plenty of greens. I’ve always enjoyed eating vegetables, so this wasn’t a problem. I added more leafy green vegetables to my lunches (tons of cooked chard with olive oil and vinegar), and some weeks I’ve gone nearly 100% plant-based with no meat at all. I’ve been looking up recipes on Pinterest and just adding a sauce to roasted vegetables and tofu takes them to a whole new level!


Technology I’m loving

My MacBook is over 7 years old, and while it’s still working fine, the battery doesn’t last very long anymore. While I’d love to replace it with a new MacBook, I can’t justify the high price right now. So I finally took the plunge and bought an iPad for work. The video quality makes a huge difference in my classes, and the battery life is amazing. I can do all sorts of planning and creating materials on it, and it’s so easy to carry around.

I’ve also learned how to use Notion to project manage my entire life. I love setting up different templates and making lists! I use it for work, study, choir music, personal to-dos, basically everything. Nerd alert: I set up an automated task that takes my Strava workouts and adds them to a Google spreadsheet. (Because… why not?)

My super organized choir list

And since 2022, I’ve been *attempting* to learn React to update my web development skills. It’s a top requirement for all front-end development jobs now, even if I’m not looking to get a job at the moment. I still get stuck quite often, and I haven’t even come close to understanding Redux yet. But I like how user-friendly it is and how web apps can be broken down into manageable components.

Face-to-face friends: a cure for nostalgia and longing

Another thing making a huge difference in my life are face-to-face, IRL (in real life) friends. I know this sounds completely obvious, but between 2020 and 2022 I didn’t have very many real life connections. Working from home in 2017-18 and then again from 2020 until now has made most of my interactions virtual. I had moved so many times before the pandemic that I was always leaving people behind, and then daydreaming about life in previous cities with previous friends. To have face-to-face time with people, I had to travel to other places like Cantabria and Bilbao.

So now that I’ve stayed in the same place for over 3 years (can you believe it?) I’m finally developing local friendships. Not only that, but my peripheral interactions with the same people like grocery cashiers and shop owners give me a feeling of stability. In 2021 I decided to sign up for choir class at a community theater, Teatro de las Esquinas. Looking back, it was really awkward for the first year. My lack of social life the previous year made me feel like I didn’t know how to interact naturally with people, and on top of that, we all had to wear masks to our weekly practice. I felt really out of place for the first few months, but the songs were fun and the director made everyone laugh. Another reason Spain is great: most people stick around after for a drink and a chat, where I ended up making connections.

So I stuck with it for a second year, where I started to feel like a “veteran” and I noticed my singing skills improving. Going to the same activity every week for two years does wonders for the soul, seeing the same faces and having people ask where you were last week if you didn’t make it. I also now hang out with a number of singers outside of our practices, which has really expanded my friend group. Thanks to choir friends and a short stint on Bumble BFF, I’ve now made enough connections that I have plans pretty much every week. There are Thanksgiving dinners, Halloween parties, St. Patrick’s Day concerts, joining protests for peace in Palestine, the Fiestas de Pilar, and plenty more.

I actively initiate plans as well, and make an effort to reach out frequently. (I have a Social To-Do list in Notion where I make a note of the people I want to reach out to each week.) Having plans in town means I don’t feel the need to go out of town as much as I used to, and not going out of town so often means I’m available for last-minute plans. I spend a lot less time daydreaming about and visiting past homes and faraway friends, even if they make it into my “reach-out” list.

I’m working hard to build high-quality relationships, and that is one of the top things that has made the difference in 2023. It was a fantastic year!