Zigs and Zags: The Best and Worst of January

porto portugal boatsFriends, it has been a spectacular start to a new year. It really has.

I write this while sitting in my living room on a Sunday evening, wrapped in a blanket we affectionately call The Fluffy. Chill, acoustic music plays in the background. I spent a few hours drinking chamomile tea, then poured a glass of wine late in the afternoon.

Cory is catching up on a TV show. Rudy is loafed on a chair across from the couch.

This morning was quiet, uneventful. We slept in, then ate French toast while sipping coffee. We both read the news, then I switched to a long-read article while Cory did the New York Times crossword puzzle. Mid-afternoon we ran to the grocery store and both got a quick haircut.

holiday treeIt’s not winter yet (!!) and the sun was shining, so we walked hand-in-hand, savoring every Sunday moment.

And, you know what? It’s just been a lovely day.

But more than that, it’s been a lovely month.

Over the last few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about what happiness means to me. How to listen more and feel less harried. How to sit in and savor quiet moments without feeling the need to do anything. Being instead of thinking about being.

Out of that has come a commitment in our family to fully take advantage of our weekends when we can. Saturdays are reserved for all the meaty chores, cleaning the apartment, and such.

But Sundays … Sundays just are. They are days for hot tea and loafing on the chair and reading a good book or catching up on my blog. They are days to shake off what has been and will come, and simply be.

That is just one of the many reasons January 2020 has been a spectacular start to the new year.

Here are a few others …


Decked out for the holidays

I love decorating for the holiday season. Our holiday decor fits into a couple shoe boxes, and our tree is flat, small, and perfect. A few years ago, S and I made some Pinterest-y bits to spruce up our windows when she visited, and I’ll probably hang those for as long as they hold together.

Add a couple scented candles and holiday music and … *BOOM!* The holidays have arrived!

We actually spent Christmas in Lisbon, Portugal, with our good friend C. We chose the perfect Airbnb — a top-floor suite with sunlight windows, lots of plants, hammocks, hardwood floors, and little surprises in the nooks and crannies. It felt like we were staying in an adult-sized tree house!

We set our tiny assortment of gifts around a potted plant, walked through Lisbon’s Christmas market, read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (a holiday tradition), and had a family dinner.

Perfect x 1000! I wouldn’t have changed a thing!

Another year around the sun

Last year I let my birthday slide by without a mention. A few days later, a friend of mine celebrated her birthday and shared the news with the world. And I thought HELL YEAH! A birthday is definitely a reason to celebrate, so this year, I proudly celebrated mine.

I turned 39 in Porto with Cory and C, and they helped make the day perfect.

Tattoos at a vegan studio. Wine overlooking the city … and one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever experienced. (Seriously … the sky was every single color, and I didn’t even know the sun could be so big!) Then vegan sushi for dinner … and maybe another couple glasses of wine.

I loved 38, and I’m thrilled to embrace 39. I’ve loved my 30s, and I fully intend to enjoy my last one.

portugal friends

porto sunset

coimbra portugal libraryPortugal! 100% Portugal!

So, the spoiler alert was above.

We spent our three-week winter holiday in Portugal with C, and we loved every minute of it. Truly.

Sure, we had a few days of fog in the Douro Valley. And the cake-topper-colored castles in Sintra were obscured by fog as well. But that’s just a good excuse to return to the country someday.

There were so many highlights from our trip, and my list of blogging ideas is quite long. A few of my favorite moments include:

  • Spending a day at the University of Coimbra. The university’s library is probably its most favorite feature, but I was also smitten by the science and horticulture collections.
  • Discovering vinho verde (green wine). Portugal is known for port, but we were introduced to green wine and it is a game changer. It’s so named because of the environment in which the grapes are grown. Fresh, light, not too sweet … and just about the best wine ever.
  • Taking it slow over the holiday season. We always know that businesses will be closed and streets will be quiet the days around Christmas. I’ve come to love those days when we travel over the holidays. We always walk a lot, observing the city from a quiet perspective. This year, we took the Rick Steves walking tour of Lisbon, which gave us a good background on the city and a couple ideas of where to visit when we returned to the city at the end of our trip.
  • Driving from Porto to Lisbon. The country is far hillier than I expected and quite lush with lots of impressive bridges. We made a couple stops on our one, full-day drive near the end of our trip. Between those stops, I relished looking out the window, absorbing the landscape while processing our trip.

I’ve already written about Ribeira, Porto’s historic town, and Portugal’s tiles — check them out if you haven’t already!

bowling score

Girl’s got (bowling) game

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed over the past couple months is our new bowling club. I thoroughly enjoy spending time with friends every other week at the bowling alley. (Fun fact: In Ukraine, you pay for bowling by the hour, not by the game.)

I’m thrilled to report that I met my goal of breaking 100 already, on two games in a single night! By a total fluke, I hit two strikes in a row followed by a spare (the only time I’ve ever gotten a strike!), which launched my score far past anything I’ve done before. It was a spectacularly “on” night.

My most recent bowling games, on the last day of January, weren’t nearly as great. But I can definitely tell that ongoing practice makes a BIG difference.


Stamps got expensive! (But the mail arrived!)

As a letter-writing fiend, I’m fairly plugged into the Ukrainian mail system. But, last fall, everything seemed to go awry when it comes to snail mail: None of the mail sent to us arrived. The price of international stamps went from 70 cents to 2.5 euro (!!) without any explanation. Despite the price increase, mail I sent with both the old and new postage reached their intended destinations.

A whole bunch of bonkers.

I am still not clear what’s going on with the postage situation here. However, our mail has arrived in waves, first a huge stack as soon as we got home from Portugal and then three more smaller stacks since then. I’ll take it!

2 Responses to “Zigs and Zags: The Best and Worst of January”

  1. Jill

    Portugal sounds great…not “touristy”! I envy your visit to the library. And you’ve finally beaten my bowling score….my all time best….I think 63…or 62? Not over 65. I suck at bowling. You go girl!

    • JoAnna

      When it comes to bowling, practice matters!


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