2017/18

2017 was an exhausting year.

It was a year that found me working more hours per week than I ever thought I would. Twelve-hour days became the norm, bookended with hour long bus rides through the suburbs of London, crawling my way north over the Thames and back again, german audio courses filling my ears for the morning journey, and Alex’s voice filling them for the return trip home.

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I went in and out of a thousand patient’s homes, into apartments of squalor and into estates so grand they could have housed five families instead of the single rich elderly resident that they did. I took endless blood pressures, felt an infinity of pulses, and inserted blessedly few suppositories. Maybe around four. Not too bad, really.

It was a year that found me spending more time away from my loved ones than in any other period to date. I was away from Australia for thirteen months, and saw my partner for only three and a half days of every fortnight. I was either working or in my tiny bedroom in Tooting, where my primary activities were eating, skyping and sleeping.

It was a year where the news reports seemed determined to bend us and bow us, to convince us the world was a doomed place being run by morons and bigots. The endless stream of click-bait fed us a diet of hopelessness and negativity, and sapped already depleting reservoirs.

It was a taxing year, certainly, but don’t believe it all, because 2017 was also an exhilarating year.

It was a year that saw my brother, Damian, become engaged to his best friend, Holly. It was a year where, in an uncharacteristic display of twinliness, I also became engaged to my best friend.

My voice quavered and my hands shook, and I asked my lady a question and she gave me a lifetime of happiness by answering in the affirmative. This happiness commenced almost immediately when, at four o’clock in the morning, with both of us too juiced up with adrenaline to sleep, we sat in bed, watched TV, and ate potato chips. Perfect wife material, my friends.

It was a year that contained a visit from my parents who crossed oceans and continents to meet me, my new fiancée, and my new fiancée’s parents, in Greece. The six of us soaked in the sun and the sea of the Mediterranean, ate our body’s weight in delicious food, and shared in the excitement of the coming nuptials.

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We explored the city of Vienna, my second home, and I journeyed with my parents across the United Kingdom. My previously isolated existence was suddenly occupied, and places and streets and homes that had been segregated from my former life became infused with the flavour of family. Those lonely locations in London now carried memories of Mum and Dad, causing the loneliness to have a harder time taking hold.

The year contained adventuring as the three of us road-tripped, dipping into the wildness of the Scottish highlands and tracking the coastline of Northern Ireland. We explored the isle of Skye, trekking on foot into the beauty and fierceness of the land, standing at the crest of the Old Man of Storr and whooping into the wind that tried to uproot us from the rocky soil.

 

It was a year where I shared texts and photos and videos with my older brother, Matthew, and spoke to my sister, Angela, through computers and phones, and realised I wasn’t as cut off as I imagined myself to be.

It was an exhausting year, and an exhilarating one, and one that helped highlight the significance of each of these attributes. Because although the adventuring was eye-opening and inspiring, and it was for the adventuring that I originally stepped out of my house in Ardeer and trotted off to Europe, it was the more subdued moments that really made my year worthwhile.

It was weekends with Alex, chatting over coffee or making meals together, or doing nothing at all but sitting on the couch and watching TV, that made the hours of work slip from my shoulders.

It was sitting with Mum and Dad in an irish pub or an Airbnb kitchen and having a beer or a cup of tea, and talking as if the miles that had previously separated us and the months spent physically apart were a brief nuisance already evaporating from our memories.

It was seeing my family’s faces in my laptop and mobile, and laughing like we always do until I could have sworn they were in the room with me, our conversation creating a temporary bubble where the laws of time and space were suspended, that punctured my isolation and deflated it.

It was all these interactions, these small and intimate moments amongst the labour of work and the highs of adventuring, that made the external stressors of the rest of the world that usually hammered at my attention become nothing more than the sound of rain falling somewhere outside while I was tucked up warm indoors.

2017 exhausted me, but it also exhilarated me to learn that what I really want from my life is these quieter moments, moments with Alex, conversations with my siblings, tea with my parents. Because while the adventuring is great, and standing on a mountain in Scotland laughing and screaming into the wind will have your adrenaline racing, it’s the getting warm and dry at the bottom with someone you love that gives it significance.

So bring on 2018, a year where I will marry the woman I love and build a life with her. A year where, by the end of it, I will no longer be torn between two cities, but will finally have a home in Vienna. A year where I’ll celebrate two weddings with my family, and see my brother marry his best friend.

A year where I’ll work less, and probably adventure less, but instead make time for the quiet moments that make both things worthwhile.

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2015/16

This time last year I was writing about how 2014 had felt like a year of waiting. It had been a strange year, one of routine that had become monotonous, and of a sense of disquiet. Of waiting.

It’s hard to wait for something, but even harder still to feel like you’re waiting for something that might never come. For most of 2014, I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I knew that the lifestyle I had set up was only a way-station to something bigger, only that something bigger kept not happening. I stuck to my routine and waited for the universe to deliver the next turning point in my story. The universe did not provide.

So I did. I could only wait so long, and in the end I decided to make the turning point myself. I resolved to move to London to see the world and, more importantly, to just do something. I wasn’t sure what I expected to happen, if anything would happen, if anything would really, on a fundamental level, change, but I knew at the very least I’d be doing something. That seemed like a better alternative.

So the end of last year’s blog post was hopeful. The waiting was at an end — I would be moving to London come the new year. This turned out not to be entirely true. The waiting continued for another six months, but at least by this point I knew what I was waiting for. The waiting had a different flavour to it, an anticipatory taste at the back of my tongue, and the tedium at least felt like it was building to something. And it did.

It’s safe to say that, despite the first half of the year still being consumed by waiting, the second half more than made up for this period of inaction.

2015 was a year of exploration, of trying new things, and, to a certain extent, of making it up as I went along. I’m sure I’ve been doing this since the moment I was born, that there isn’t a book somewhere with the plot points of my life already written down in easy to understand step-by-step instructions, but I’ve always sat and thought things through so that by the time of decision, what I’ve decided to do felt planned and preordained. I would convince myself that I’d mentally explored every possibility, and the one I’d chosen was the most logical and responsible. This has not always turned out to be the case, but it felt like it at the time. The illusion is a comfort.

But after literally disbanding my previous life — renting out my house, selling furniture, quitting my job, and buying a plane ticket — it seemed not to be in the spirit of things to fall back on my previous method of nutting everything out first before taking action. That way of thinking had certainly provided me with security, but it also ended with me living in an empty house, repeating what felt like the same day over and over. I was trying something different, now. That was kind of the whole point.

So instead I had a loose framework. I would catch up with my cousin and his girlfriend in Italy and we’d explore the country before heading to London. I knew in August I would head to Vienna to catch up with a friend for a few week before the both of us, and a few of her friends, went to Greece. After this, I had vague ideas of working and travelling, the ratio of those two things dependant on my financial status at any given time. That was it.

I figured this cavalier attitude towards my future would liberate me, would eliminate the weight of expectation. Expectation can be a hazardous thing. On one hand it gives you something to hope for — a future you expect and anticipate is one you can prepare for, and look forward to. But expectation cuts both ways, and sometimes the stressors of the future, those far-off jobs we can do nothing about but sit and chew over regardless, can get to us. I had no expectation for the future and so reasoned I could neither stress about it nor be disappointed if what I expected never came to pass.

It worked, to an extent. I said teary farewells to my family and friends, and dived in to the rest of the world. I met my to-be roommates in Rome and, through a forty-degree summer, we ate and drank and trained in across a country I’d been hearing about since primary school. I had no expectations, and every new wonder was an unanticipated joy.

Eventually we made our way to London, and a new apartment, and before I knew it I was boarding a plane to see a friend I’d made in Vietnam two years previously. Alex and I had maintained contact through Facebook and the mutual pastime of writing. This mostly involved her writing essays for university and me editing those essays. I am very thankful to her university for making her write long and detailed essays in her second language as it gave us cause to stay in contact.

I hadn’t seen Alex since the trip through South-East Asia, and wasn’t sure what would happen when I got to her house in a country I knew little about. From memory, she was lovely, and her messages and generous offer to have me stay with her while I travelled reinforced this, but spending two weeks with someone you haven’t seen for two-and-a-half years is full of potential social risk. She could have been crazy. Or I could have been. We were both gambling.

But, armed with my new outlook, I dropped expectation and just let it be what it was. Thankfully, after landing, hugging Alex, and about five minutes of conversation, I realised it was going to be fucking amazing. And it really was.

Alex was as kind and funny as I remembered, and it didn’t take long for us to discover we had more in common than just booking tours through Vietnam in 2013. The city she showed me was stunning, and her family’s generous proved to be equally incredible. Those weeks in Vienna will forever be one of the greatest times in my life.

Part of this may be because I fell for Alex in that time, and we spent a certain portion of the second week kissing (I made the first move, for those of you playing at home). After another two weeks in Greece, I had a girlfriend. Another unanticipated joy.

But months of holiday had to come to an end eventually and I returned to London and set about procuring employment. And it was during this process I learnt that, just like expectation, a lack of expectation also cuts both ways.

I stressed about all the things I hadn’t thought through. I stressed about money. I stressed about the future. It fluctuated, this stress, my “take it as it comes” attitude gaining the advantage for a few days when I reflected I was halfway around the world and who cares about anything else, only to be knocked off its perch by my more experienced responsible self, who sat in the den of my subconscious crunching numbers and sweating about the results. I had nights of blissful sleep and nights of anxiety-ridden tossing and turning. The consequence of abandoning my secure life had finally hit.

The beauty of it all, the lesson I can take away if there is one, is that the benefits still far outweigh the consequences. Yes, of course having a lack of plan results in anxiety, particularly for someone wired like myself. Of course working three days and then disappearing to Vienna for a week causes financial stress. Of course stress doesn’t just disappear because I decided not to focus on it. Idiot.

But when I flick through the photos in my 2015 album, holy crap have I had some amazing experiences. It’s hard to be resentful when I have so much to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for the places I’ve seen, the breath-taking, mind-boggling places from documentaries and travel guides that literally spread out from my feet, feeling both intensely real and unreal as my brain tried to assimilate my new reality.

I’m thankful for the meals I’ve had, for the pizza eaten on cobbled Italian avenues, the home-cooked Austrian feasts of pork-belly and dumplings shared around a family table, the meals in London pubs enjoyed with a pint and friends from home, and of mugs of steaming punsch held in cold hands burning warm paths down my throat.

I’m thankful for the work I’ve had, walking the streets of London and disappearing into the homes of the locals, getting to see how the citizens of this land live and love and cope. Of strolling through the west-end past theatres and shops, of accidentally stumbling into Camden markets, of wandering the tiny cafe-lined streets of Soho, and eating lunch in Trafalgar Square.

I’m thankful for the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and the generosity given to me that I never anticipated.

And most of all, I’m thankful for Alex, for the joy of having her in my life, for the hours of conversation and sharing of her fascinating and beautiful self, for her endless kindness, and for her making me stupidly happy.

So, all in all, all things weighed and measured, all stock taken, and all pleasure balanced against pain, I can confidently say 2015 was an incredible year. It was a year where I took risks that paid off. A year where I felt elated and exhausted, liberated and anxious. It was a year where things happened.
A year where the waiting came to an end.

 

P.S. I also got a new nephew this year. His name is Harris, and he’s beautiful. That was also pretty fucking amazing.

2014/15

2014 felt like a year of waiting for me. Maybe waiting isn’t the right word. A year of rest, perhaps. But not simply rest, more the relaxation between efforts. The moment of sitting down, stretching out legs and breathing deep, of letting muscles slacken and body sag, before slapping knees and standing to tackle the next job. 2014 was a year of repose.

But despite the sense of respite the year has left me with, things happened in 2014. The biggest and brightest that springs to mind was my trip through the United States. It was a trip that took me away from the comforts of home and family, and opened me up to new friendships and experiences. It wasn’t challenging in the way hiking up a mountain might be, or backpacking through a foreign country, instead it tested this introvert’s ability to participate and get involved without the safety net of heading home at the end of the night. I deliberately placed myself in a situation that didn’t include my normal supports in an effort to strengthen my rarely flexed social muscles.

The trip involved putting forty-two adults ranging between twenty-one and thirty-seven on a bus together, and driving that bus from one side of North America to the other. Not the usual past time of an introvert.

It took a while for me to ease into it, like lowering into a hot bath, my rigid and tense body sinking in small piece by small piece until, submerged and immersed, I relaxed. And a good thing I did too. Away from the stress and routine of work, I rediscovered the joy of impulsivity and spontaneity. I didn’t have to plan for things, to go to bed at certain times in order to be up at certain times, parceling my alertness to ensure I made it through the work day. I didn’t have to squeeze activities around an eight-hour shift, staggering to these events with the dregs of energy left to me.

Activities became my full-time job. Speaking to new people, sharing meals and experiences and drinks, was the sole expenditure of my vigour. Seeing new things, new environments, new communities, having new thoughts, was now the purpose of my day. And with that new purpose came new drive. I was surviving off five hours sleep at best each night and feeling more energetic than I ever had.

And by the time the trip wound to an end I knew this was what I’d been waiting for. This, this feeling, experience, frame of mind, was what I’d been inching towards the whole year without realising it. I was a hibernating bear sensing the first rays of spring, and that new season was kick starting my sluggish arteries. I decided I needed more of it; I was done hibernating.

 

Since before even leaving school, I knew what I had to do. I knew I had to be realistic, that once I left this complacent nest of learning and days dictated by ringing bells, I had to work towards supporting myself. I took two years to obtain a Diploma of Writing, an indulgence for myself I completed while working thirty-six hour weeks at Coles, but I knew in the real world people had to work, so I walked out of one tertiary building and straight into another, and began studying to become a nurse. Nursing meant job security.

I completed my three years of university, slogging through the trials of clinical placements, hours of lectures, and headache-inducing exams, without really giving any of it much consideration. I was being realistic, and on the right path. I completed the course, swapped the title of student for nurse, and started working. A lot of graduates entered the workforce doing only eight shifts a fortnight, an easing-in process. This I also didn’t give much thought to: I’d be working full-time. I knew this was what an adult did, had seen my father work endless hours, often weekends as well, and knew this was the lot of a grown-up. Of a provider. So I commenced full-time employment on forty-five hours a week.

I came out the other end of my graduate year almost burnt out, a withered black match with only a millimetre of unburnt wood left to me, pinched between shaking fingertips. I had gritted my teeth and clung to the resolution of adult work-ethic, and it had kicked my arse. I was ready to leave nursing — but not full-time employment, of course.

I found a job as a medical writer and worked in that position for three months until contracts dried up and I found myself unemployed. This felt very wrong to me. I was twenty-four and not working. This was not being very realistic. I found work as a district nurse, and discovered, much to my pleasure, that it was work I enjoyed. I was doing a forty-hour workweek again, and confident I was back on track.

I continued down the responsibility path and purchased a house with my girlfriend, and after a couple of years, garnered a promotion. My girlfriend and I split, but I bought her out of the house, my sense of adult responsibilities serving me well in still being able to make repayments. I was doing it, I was an adult, working full-time with a property to my name and succeeding in my job. And it wasn’t until this point, until I reached this peak of being a provider, this adulthood nirvana that I’d been slogging towards since leaving school, that I stopped to look around and question what the fuck I was doing.

Because I had overlooked a rather pertinent point. I had modelled my work ethic on a man who was providing for a family. A man who headed into work each day knowing he did so to feed and clothe his four children. I didn’t have four children. The only dependents I had were a lemon and lime tree that survived despite my months of neglect (Side note: Dad repositioned them to a sunnier location and probably saved their lives. You can see why he was an influential role model).

I had accepted the inevitable role of provider and the responsibilities that went with it without ever questioning if this was what I needed to do to survive. If, in fact, there were other patterns to self-sustainment, a plethora of varying patterns, that didn’t involve working forty-hour work weeks, particularly when the only one I had to provide for was myself.

This realisation opened up new avenues for me.

 

The combined insight that I was not a bear made for hibernating, nor a father providing for four, meant that the track I’d set myself on since before leaving school had played itself out. That track had given me incredible experiences and lessons, but they were lessons for a more black and white me. I was ready for a new path.

Which is why 2015 won’t be another year of repose, but a year of exploration. I have already moved out of my house and back into the comforting embrace of my previous residence in Brunswick West, and am once again enjoying the company of my brother and his girlfriend. But this is only a temporary lay-over. In March, I intend to fly to the United Kingdom which I will make my new home for at least twelve months. I will work, because I haven’t changed so much as to disregard the idea of a responsible income completely, but only casually, as a district nurse in Scotland, and later in London. My primary purpose will be to see. To experience. To explore. To engage. To discover. To act.

2014 was good for me in both the rest and insights it offered, but now it’s time to slap my knees, stand, and tackle the next adventure.

2013/14

The year has wound out in its usual fashion and we all remarked on the speed with which it passed, despite the fact that time dripped on at the pace it always has. It’s us that have sped up. We’ve upgraded from the laconic endless days of childhood when a day was as long as we needed it to be, and we didn’t waste time thinking about its ending. When we didn’t have to parcel the hours to ensure the to-do list was completed before the sun finished its arc. Time moved differently because every moment was then-and-there and this-is-happening, and not what-next or yet-to-be-done. Now we are frantic in our awareness of time passing and we fill it with everything so we don’t miss out on anything. The blatant irony is the what-next attitude stops us savouring the everything we have packed into our day. Maybe if we did a little less and embraced the this-is-happening frame of mind we’d feel like we accomplished more.

I feel like I’m in a very different place here at the end of the year than I was at the start.  For me, 2013 was made up of periods of frenetic action with time jumping forward in rapid jolts, and stretches of lonely inaction, bubbles where time was sluggish and sloth-like. This best summarises my experience of being newly single.

The biggest change 2013 brought was the ending of my five-year relationship. It altered everything. On reflection, I’m proud with how something that was so hard and tender and painful played out. Neither I nor my girlfriend felt the need to sink to the numb-mind state of hurling insults and lashing out. We didn’t hate each other, you see, we loved each other. But we didn’t fit together. And because of that we conducted our break-up with the same love with which we had conducted our relationship.

Facing the realisation of it was horrible. We both stared down our lives to a future where the other person no longer played a vital part. Where odd thoughts and in-jokes could no longer be shared, and where unquestioned support we had come to rely on was suddenly pulled away. We hated that reality and so ignored the stalled one we were living in for as long as we could. But eventually we agreed that an uncertain future was less of a risk than a present we were no longer enjoying. And so in April of 2013 we broke up.

The last time I was single I was twenty-one. I was an adolescent university student. Nursing was a course I had just begun, and not a life-changing career I had immersed myself in. I lived in Gippsland with my parents. I thought in simpler patterns and had a very different set of priorities.

The silver side of the thunderhead that is a breakup is the inescapable self-reflection that follows. After my break-up I had time where I was alone. Time where my to-do list got done and I was left sitting in my house thinking all the thoughts I usually pushed to the edge of my brain. I thought about who I was, and more importantly, who I felt I should be. Inescapably, I looked at myself without the identifier of boyfriend, but just me, with just myself to keep happy. And I had to learn how to do that. I had to learn what made me happy, and what I wanted to do with all the time that had suddenly opened up before me. If I wanted to be selfish with that time, or spread it around to the people in my life. Without planning for it, I had choice.

I think every break-up, like every change, is the opportunity for metamorphosis. So I changed in ways I had always wanted to, but no longer had a good excuse to delay. I exercised. I read. I wrote. I created. I saw friends. I relaxed with family. And I did it all while learning how to be alone, and deal with the air pockets between these activities when I just missed having someone around who loved me.

So change happened to me in 2013, and I changed. But it wasn’t just me. In my immediate family alone, every one of them changed. My twin brother took the courageous step of tackling an entirely new profession and industry because it meant he would be doing something he was passionate about. He quit full-time work and the comfort of full-time income, and set himself up with part-time employment and the challenge of entering a new field. He has already been successful in this due to his diligence, determination, and the intelligent and hard-working way with which he approached his self-appointed task.

My parents continued their growth into the post-children world and made more of their year than I thought possible. Without question, their social calendar outstripped mine to the point where planning two weeks ahead was the safest way to ensure I saw them. They have embraced this period of their life, and, far from slowing down, have sped up.

My sister, in a similar vein to my brother, has excelled in her new profession of being a yoga teacher. She followed her passion and worked harder and with more dedication than I thought possible of one person, and has gone from strength the strength. I’ve had the pleasure of being her student and the professionalism and breadth of knowledge she displayed was inspiring.

And finally, my older brother became a father. I can’t even describe how incredible it is to write that sentence. I know in my bones that he will be an amazing dad, and can’t wait to watch as that relationship develops. It is a life-changing, family-changing event, and a joy to be a part of.

We all changed in the past twelve months, and if I wanted to I could continue to look at my extended family and friends, and find that change has affected them all. In the same way we remark on the increasing speed of a year despite its continued metronomic pace, we remark on what a big year 2013 has been despite the fact that they’re all big years. Every year contains change, but the beauty of book-ending these periods of time is in the nature of stopping, of sitting with the this-is-happening frame of mind, and appreciating all that was accomplished. Of letting go of the what-next attitude and marvelling at how we have evolved and are evolving.

So here’s to 2014, to change, and to less of the what-next and more of the this-is-happening.

TWENTY-TWELVE

The ending of a year and the commencement of a new one always struck me as a strange event. A non-event. Humans determined how long it takes the earth to fully circle the sun, gave this orbit a starting point, then decided to celebrate the anniversary of this fictitious starting point. And for a long time I couldn’t figure out why we gave such an obviously invented holiday any weight.

I remember as a kid sitting on the beach and feeling an electricity as the count down began. The tension increased until the final digit fell away and everyone along the sand exploded with a tremendous “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Bracing hugs were shared, kisses given, and fireworks would launch into the air. But as those coloured lights faded quickly from the night sky and normal conversation resumed among the adults, I remember thinking, Is that it? I don’t feel any different. Why is everyone making such a big deal? And by all outward appearances nothing had changed. The new year looked and felt suspiciously like the last year.

The anti-climax of new years turned me off the event. It seemed to me a desperate excuse to party, to drink, and generally do stuff you wouldn’t normally do. Creating an excuse to celebrate is no bad thing, but new years always came away as shallow because so much hung on it. We were closing the door to the problems of last year. We were resolving to be different and better people come the new year. But those pesky problems always seemed to find their way into the new year regardless of the closed door, and the new people we were meant to be had a lot of the flaws of the old.

There was too much pressure on this invented holiday that it ultimately failed to live up to the hype.

But as I’ve moved into adulthood and garnered adult pressures and responsibilities, the value of new years has started to emerge.

The first value: An excuse to party.

This didn’t carry much weight for a child who came home and read books and watched television, and whose major concern was a three-hour shift behind a supermarket register. The excuse to party was every weekend, and the chance to unwind wasn’t essential. I was pretty unwound to begin with.

But as an adult the chance to gather with friends, to turn off the train of thoughts linked to job, career, and finances, is like an oasis in a storm. And in that oasis you feel like resolutions are a good thing, and are accomplishable. Which leads us to…

The second value: Resolve.

New years is traditionally a time to make resolutions. An opportunity to improve. As a child I found this pointless; why wait for a made up date on a made up calendar? If you want to change, change. And why there is some truth to this, there’s also truth to the fact that after working a stressful eight and a half hour shift without a lunch break, the resolution of not eating junk and exercising is almost laughable. High fat foods and doing nothing when you get home are compulsory.

New years gives you an opportunity to reflect away from the exhaustion of work on what it is you really want to be achieving. Because while financial stability is an accomplishment, it’s not always satisfying. It’s not all you want to be doing. The fugue of endless work days makes this hard to remember, but new years is a marked point in time to stop, think, and resolve yourself to the person you really want to be. It doesn’t matter if you don’t stick to the goals word for word, only that you remember what you’re doing and why, and bit by bit, work towards them. This action is usually accompanied by reflection. Which leads us to…

The third value: Reflect.

The idea that the problems of last year will magically evaporate in the face of a new year is still a stupid one. Young me got that one right. But what new years does offer is the opportunity to reflect on those problems, to weigh them against the successes of a year, and realise that you may have done better than you thought you did. It’s a moment to summarise what’s not working, to appreciate what you accomplished, and to take those wins and losses and decide what you’ll do with them from that point onwards. And there is definitely value in this.

For me, 2012 was a big one. A year may only be a fictitious span of man-made time, but mine was an eventful fictitious span of man-made time. 2012 saw my first published work, my first purchased home, my first published illustrations, my first promotion, and my first hospitalisation. Phew. And I only really appreciated this list when I stopped to reflect, calculate, and appreciate what I had accomplished in a year.

Here’s hoping it only gets better.

Happy new year everyone, and all the best for 2013.