2020 Wrap-up

2020 may not have been my best year, but I don’t know that I would count it as my worst year either. It certainly started out rough and had some bumps along the way but I had many positive things that happened along the way. I spent the last two weeks of 2020 asking my EFL students their goals and bad habits, both professionally and personally, and I thought I’d do a wrap-up blog with my own answers to the questions I asked them.

Did you have a professional/personal goal in 2020 you were able to accomplish or did the pandemic throw everything in a loop? If you’d asked me this question in early 2020 I would have said my hopes and dreams had been crushed by the pandemic. I was supposed to go back to Vietnam and start my new career as an English as a Foreign Language teacher. But the pandemic and border closings put a halt to that. However, I started tutoring adults online with a really cool company that provides me with the flexibility I need. And then in October I was hired by a Mexican language center to do several hours a week teaching Business English online with the hope to be in person in 2021. I did not set a personal goal early on in the year, but by mid-year my health had gotten out of control so I did a complete reset and was able to lose some weight, decrease my aches and pains and take back control over my health.

What professional/personal goal do you have for 2021? Professionally, I want to complete a training course on teaching business english (I’ve signed up for it – just need to actually start it!) and read at least three professional books. On the personal side, I want to continue with my weight loss and eating a more whole foods plant based diet. Combined professional/personal goals are to become conversational in Spanish and move to Mexico.

What bad habit(s) did you break in 2020? I’ve always been a fast food consumer – even knowing it’s not good for me. But early 2020 had me eating fast food multiple times a week and sometimes more than once a day. So in September I cut out fast food. I had a week moment in late October and it made me feel very yucky and I haven’t eaten it since – I don’t even crave it or think about it.

What bad habit(s) do you want to break in 2021? Limiting my time on social media. Unfortunately I’m not doing all that great at minimizing my time just yet, but I am slowly working toward it.

What was the best thing that happened in 2020 professionally and personally? I spent the first part of the year being very angry and depressed that I was ‘stuck’ in the US and not able to start my new career in Vietnam thanks to the borders closing due to the pandemic. But I started to realize that this was a sign that Vietnam was not where I needed to be and started looking at other options. That’s when the position in Mexico came about and I feel very comfortable with the idea that this is where I’m supposed to be at this point in my life. Vietnam will always be there so it may be an option in the future. In addition, in Vietnam I would have been teaching young kids and in Mexico I will be doing what I ultimately wanted to do – teaching Business English. This was my five-year plan and I’m thrilled to be able to do it now. Personally, I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to develop deeper relationships with my niece and nephews – something I would not have been able to do if I was half a world away.

What lesson did you learn in 2020? The lesson I learned in 2020 is really a carry-over from my time in Morocco….that everything will work out, maybe not the way we want or when we want, but they will work out. And most of the time they work out for the better.

Do you have a word or phrase for 2021? My word and phrase for 2021 are ones I’ve used many times over the year, but they help keep my focused and help me make the right the decisions: Health and Make Healthy Choices. This is in everything I do, from the foods I eat, to the books I read and movies I watch, to the friendships I maintain, to self talk.

Yes, 2020 was a rough year for many people, but there was also much good that came from our slowed down life and more time spent with loved ones. Here’s to a happy, healthy, productive and adventurous 2021!

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2020 Books

Here is my annual list of the books I read this year. My goal was 50 and I read 64 (plus one I decided to not finish, one re-read, and one I will finish in 2021).  Four and Five star ratings are highly recommended. Two reading goals this year were to read more female authors and to focus on books that fit my Reading Around the World goal.


5 stars     A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher

5 stars     Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

3 stars     People Can’t Drive You Crazy if You Don’t Give Them the Keys by Mike Bechtle

4 stars     Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars     The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in between by Hisham Matar

5 stars     Ali and Nino by Kurban Said


4 stars     An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew by Annejet van der Zijl

5 stars     The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller

4 stars     Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollen

5 stars     The Minuteman by Greg Donahue

5 stars     Malcolm and Me by Ishmael Reed

5 stars     The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

3 stars     Beyond the Shadow of Night by Ray Kingfisher

4 stars     I Was Anastasia: A Novel by Ariel Lawhon

5 stars     The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank


5 stars     Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

5 stars     The Warsaw Protocol by Steve Berry

4 stars     Blood Territory: The Death of Jimmy O’Connell by Mark Whittaker

3 stars     Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro

5 stars     American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury

4 stars     The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

3 stars     When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal

3 stars     Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations in Life with John F. Kennedy by Jacqueline Kennedy

4 stars     Jane Austen’s Emma (Audible Original) by Anna Lea

5 stars     Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield


3 stars     The Future of Feeling: Building Empathy in a Tech-Obsessed World by Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips

(Did Not Finish) Appalachian Reckoning; A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy by Anthony

5 stars     An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina

1 star      Goodbye Paris, Shalom Tel Aviv by Marco Koskas

4 stars     Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo


5 stars     The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

5 stars The Golden Orchard by Flora Ahn

4 stars     The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

5 stars     The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

5 stars     The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

5 stars     A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

5 stars     Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon

4 stars     The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

5 stars     White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Tobin DiAngelo

5 stars     All This I Will Give To You by Dolores Redondo


4 stars     The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

5 stars     A Drop of Midnight: A Memoir by Jason Diakite

4 stars     Talking to Strangers by a Malcolm Gladwell

4 stars     The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

5 stars     The House of Long Ago by Steve Berry


5 stars     Trust Your Animal Instincts by Tabitha A. Scott

5 stars     In Her Footsteps by Lonely Planet

5 stars     How to Defeat a Demon King in Ten Easy Steps by Andrew Rowe

5 stars     Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson (re-read for 3rd time)


4 stars     How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

3 stars     The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

5 stars     The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator by Joakim Palmkvist

3 stars     King of Sting: The Story of Australian Conman Peter Foster by Justin Armsden

4 stars     This Life or the Next: A Novel by Demian Vitanza

5 stars    The Passion According to Carmela by Marcos Aguinis

1 Star     Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov


5 stars     Thicker than Water by Tyler Shultz

5 stars     The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia

5 stars     Plan for the Worst (A St Mary’s Chronicle) by Jodi Taylor


5 stars     The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

3 stars     Phreaks (Audible Originals)

4 stars     The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

4 stars     The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford


4 stars     Water Music by T.C. Boyle

(started)  A Promised Land by Barack Obama

4 stars     The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau

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Final 7 days

I did it! I completed the 21-Day Challenge and accomplished all my goals. I’m so very proud of myself as I usually have an off day then totally go downhill from there. But this time, my off day(s) just motivated me to continue with my plan. Here’s a recap of my goals and my end thoughts/feelings on each:

*21-Day Vegan Kickstart (done because of my allergy to dairy & eggs and because I was eating WAY too much cheese!): while I didn’t follow the meal plan exactly, I used it as a guide to help me focus on changing up my meals and not relying on dairy. I will never be 100% completely vegan but I will be incorporating many of the tips/techniques into my eating in the future. And that weird body odor is gone.

*Intermittent Fasting (10a – 6p): while I’ve done intermittent fasting for years, it’s always been hit and miss. This time I stuck with it every day. The first couple of days was rough because I’d become used to eating as soon as I finished working out (or waking up). But my body adjusted. I also planned my tutoring schedule around the times I wanted to eat so that I would simply be too busy to focus on eating at other times. This goal is the one I’m most happy about completing!

*Exercise 5 days a week: I’ve always enjoyed exercise and hated that I’d gotten out of practice with it so this challenge helped me focus on it again. I did cardio and strength training at least 5 days every week and some very basic yoga. I plan to start doing Yoga with Adrienne today as I finally feel like I’m ready to add that back in to my routine.

*Bonus goal(s) – French lessons & grammar course: both done most every day (I hate grammar rules and the course makes me want to bang my head against a wall, but I need it for teaching/tutoring)

My sleep patterns have adjusted back to a more normal pattern for me, finally. I am not all achy and tired all the time. And while I didn’t lose as much weight as I’d hoped, I did lose a total of 5.8 lbs and I can see small changes in how my clothes fit. So I’m happy with that. I’m taking a couple of days off (but not going completely off the rails!) and plan to start over again on Sunday. Here’s to a healthier life!

Here is the overview of the final 7 days:

Day 15

Weight: lost .2 lbs

Sleep:  7 hrs 45 mins

Exercise: 40 min aerobics; Day 13 30-Day Workout; simple yoga

Total Steps: 12,839

Food: on track

Water: 72 oz

Feelings: doing good

French: done

Grammar course: done

Day 16

Weight: ugh – gained .6 lbs…pretty sure it’s all the cookie dough I ate last weekend

Sleep: 5 hrs 52 mins

Exercise: 42 min aerobics; Day 14 30-Day Workout; simple yoga

Total Steps: 11,436

Food: on track

Water: 72 oz

Feelings: frustrated with myself for gaining weight so buckling down

French: done

Grammar course: done

Day 17

Weight: no change

Sleep: 6 hrs 29 mins

Exercise: Rest Day

Total Steps: 11,676

Food: had a frustrating day and caved and got a cheese calzone

Water: 64 oz

Feelings: really frustrated and just want a good gooey pizza!

French: done

Grammar course: started Unit 4

Day 18

Weight: lost .6 lbs

Sleep: 7 hrs 56 mins

Exercise: Rest Day

Total Steps: 8,238

Food: on track

Water: 64 oz

Feelings: less emotional

French: done

Grammar course: done

Day 19

Weight: gained .2 – maintaining the 5 lb weight loss at the moment

Sleep: 8 hrs 17 mins

Exercise: 1-mile walk; Day 15 30-Day Workout; simple yoga

Total Steps: 13,187

Food: all good

Water: 72

Feelings: feeling good

French: done

Grammar course: done

Day 20

Weight: lost .8 lbs

Sleep: 5 hrs 24 mins

Exercise: 39 mins aerobics; simple yoga

Total Steps: 12,988

Food: on track

Water: 72 oz

Feelings: all good

French: done

Grammar course: finished Unit 4

Day 21

Weight: gained .6 lbs

Sleep: 8 hrs 19 mins

Exercise: 37 min aerobics; Day 17 30-Day Workout; simple yoga

Total Steps: 13,187

Food: on track

Water: 64 oz

Feelings: proud of myself for sticking with it!

French: done

Grammar course: started Unit 5

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Days 7-14

I have to say I’m quite proud of myself for sticking with this plan for 14 days with no major set-backs. Usually at this point I’ve had a really off day or two and struggle to get back on track. While I’ve had lots of cravings during these two weeks, and many days where I simply wanted to stay in bed and not work out, I’ve sucked it up and carried on with my plan. And while I’ve only lost an additional .2 lbs (for a total of 5.2 lbs lost), I’m feeling much better and much more focused. Over the weekend, I DID make dairy free cookie dough and ate on it for a couple of days, and then I realized my heel and shoulder were hurting again and realized that sugar really is the devil. I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely sugar free, but I’m definitely cutting back on it so that I don’t have to deal with the aches & pains.

Here’s the day-to-day:

Day 8

Weight: Ended first week with total 5 lbs lost!

Sleep: 8 hrs 8 mins

Exercise: 1 mile walk; Day 8 of 30-Day Workout; basic yoga stretches

Total Steps: 12,880

Food: on point!

Water: 72 oz

Feelings: Things are good

French: Done

Grammar course: nope

Day 9

Weight: lost .2 lbs

Sleep: 6 hrs 55 mins

Exercise: Aerobics for 31 minutes; basic yoga stretches

Total Steps: 13,080

Food: on track

Water: 56 oz

Feelings: all is good

French: done

Grammar course: started unit 2

Day 10

Weight: stayed same – no gain no loss

Sleep: 6 hrs 40 mins

Exercise: REST DAY (mainly because my knee has been bothering me)

Total Steps: 10,381

Food: caved and made dairy free cookies (was really trying to not eat sweets but …)

Water: 64 oz

Feelings: feeling good

French: done

Grammar course: done

Day 11

Weight: lost .2 lbs

Sleep: 8 hrs 40 mins

Exercise: Another rest day to let me knee stop hurting

Total Steps: 10,328

Food: on track

Water: 72 oz

Feelings: all good

French: done

Grammar course: finished Unit 2

Day 12

Weight: gained .2 lbs

Sleep: 8 hrs 8 mins

Exercise: 1-mile walk; Day 10 30-Day Workout; simple yoga

Total Steps: 12,997

Food: on track

Water: 88 oz

Feelings: feeling good

French: done

Grammar course: done

Day 13

Weight: lost .2 lbs

Sleep: 6 hrs 33 min

Exercise: 1-mile walk; Day 11 30-Day Workout; simple yoga

Total Steps: 13,830

Food: on track – but craving pizza big time

Water: 72 oz

Feelings: doing good

French: done

Grammar course: done

Day 14

Weight: no change

Sleep: 6 hrs 50 mins

Exercise: 42 min aerobics; simple yoga

Total Steps: 13,176

Food: on track

Water: 64 oz

Feelings: honestly feeling proud of myself for sticking with this for 2 weeks with no major set backs

French: done

Grammar course: done

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First 7 Days

This is a continuation of my 21 Day Challenge blog posted a week ago. If you haven’t read that yet, please start there!

Overall the first seven days were good. I had fewer cravings than I anticipated. Day one was a little difficult waiting to eat at 10 am because I was used to eating as soon as I finished my workout and shower. But I adjusted and now there’s no problems. My sleep has improved, I no longer have sciatica pain through my tailbone and heel, and that weird cheese related body odor is gone. I ended the seven days with a 5 pound weight loss – which is a total motivator!

Day 1

Weighed to get a baseline

Sleep: 5 hrs 23 mins

Exercise: 1-mile walk, simple yoga stretches, Day 3 of 30-Day Workout strength training app

Total Steps: 12, 847

Food: On track – no cravings – discovered So Delicious brand coconut milk yogurt alternative is yummy

Water: 64 oz, plus 8 oz tea

Feelings: Overall feeling excited to start this journey and enjoy yummy foods

French: done

Day 2

Weight: down 1.6 lbs!

Sleep: 8 hrs 28 mins

Exercise: 1-mile walk, simple yoga stretches

Total Steps: 13, 274

Food: On track – no cravings – got to enjoy popcorn as a snack!

Water: 80 oz

Feelings: woke up with a nasty migraine

French: done

Started grammar course for refresher

Day 3

Weight: down 2.8 lbs total!

Sleep: 7 hrs 11 min

Exercise: 40 mins aerobics/dancing, Day 5 of 30-Day Workout, simple yoga stretches

Total Steps: 12,938

Food: On track – big chocolate craving today!

Water: 80 oz

Feelings: I did not buy any vegan chocolates because I wanted to get through at least a week with no sweets, but it was a rough one today!

French: done

Grammar course: completed Unit 1

Day 4

Weight: down another lbs! Total loss: 3.8 lbs

Sleep: 9 hrs 34 mins

Exercise: REST DAY

Total Steps: 6,310

Food: on track

Water: 80 oz

Feelings: big cravings today, but held off

French: BREAK

Grammar course: BREAK

Day 5

Weight: up .4 lbs – but totally not worried about it!

Sleep: 6 hrs 57 mins

Exercise: 1 mile walk, Day 6 30-Day Workout, simple yoga stretches

Total Steps: 13,146

Food: on track

Water: 80 oz

Feelings: noticed that my joints aren’t hurting, I woke up with no sinus issues, and my shoulder isn’t sore (it’s been sore for several weeks)

French: Done

Grammar course: Done

Day 6

Weight: Down 4.2 lbs!

Sleep: 5 hrs 33 mins

Exercise: 1-mile walk, Day 7 30-Day Workout, simple yoga stretches

Total Steps: 11,351

Food: on track

Water: 64 oz

Feelings: mentally feeling good and having more clarity

French: done

Grammar course: didn’t do

Day 7

Weight: Down total 5.2 lbs to start the day!

Sleep: 8 hrs 39 mins

Exercise: 1-mile walk, simple yoga stretches

Total Steps: 11,372

Food: on track – fewer cravings

Water: 64 oz

Feelings: I had planned to start Yoga with Adrienne but can’t seem to get myself to do it; I think because I’m afraid I’m going to fail – and it’s one more thing I’m adding to be completed so I guess I’ll stick with what I’m doing for a while longer so as not to push myself too much

French: done

Grammar course: didn’t do – couldn’t focus on it

Yummy Buckwheat Pancakes
Homemade pita chips and black bean salsa and sautéed veggies
So Delicious says it all!
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21 Day Challenge

2020 has been a rough year in many ways for many people. I came back to the US from Vietnam in December 2019 to care for my Mom, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mom passed away at the end of January 2020 and just went I was ready to head back overseas the coronavirus pandemic hit and I was unable to get back to Vietnam to start my job and new career. After months of battling depression, which resulted in weight gain, I’ve slowly been getting my life back on track. A couple of months ago, I started working out again and doing some really basic yoga, but I need to be more consistent. My eating habits have been completely out of whack since December. My sleep pattern is messed up and I can’t figure out if its related to all this or that I’m in the beginning stages of menopause or a combination. I have a really strange body odor that I’m positive is related to the mounds of cheese I’ve been consuming. My sciatic nerve has flared up causing it to spread across my tailbone area making it very uncomfortable to sit; and occasionally the arch and heel of my foot hurt. I’m having almost daily migraines and sinus issues.

With a family history of pancreatic cancer and diabetes, it’s time to make some changes. I was diagnosed with diabetes about 10 years ago and have been able to keep it under control through diet and exercise. So far, my sugar levels are in the normal range but I want to keep it that way. I set some goals and enlisted accountability support from 3 friends and am ready to start this journey.


*21 Day Vegan Kickstart (I did this several years ago and it really helped me lose weight. Plus, I’m allergic to dairy and eggs.)

*Intermittent Fasting (I’ve done this casually for over 25 years – way before it became mainstream) …. My times will be 10 am – 6 pm

*Exercise 5 days a week and start doing ‘regular yoga’ again. This will be cardio and strength training, as well as starting back following Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube

*Bonus goal: French lessons on Duolingo for 30 minutes every day

*I also have some professional goals in mind and will discuss them as I implement them


While I may be allergic to cheese and eggs, it doesn’t stop me from eating them. I’m not sure I can be a full time forever and ever vegan, but I know that I need to cut back and right now I need to cut them out completely. So, in preparation, I ate only cheese and eggs yesterday to get my final fill (and I’m paying for it this morning). I also went to the grocery and stocked up on all the things I need. I use FitBit to track my exercise, water and sleep. I have weighed myself to get a baseline – but I’m more interested in how I feel and how my clothes fit.

Over the next 21 days I plan to journal my experience. I haven’t decided if I’ll blog weekly or wait until the end. Here’s to a better me in 21 days!

The yummy cheesy calzone I had as my last cheese meal for 21 days
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Tips for reading outside your comfort zone

The makeup of bookshelves is changing. Since my 2012 quest to read a book from every country, it’s been great to see many of the nations that had no …

Tips for reading outside your comfort zone
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‘2019 is in the books and 2020 is a new story waiting to be written.’ This is how I ended my last blog and whew what a story so far!

I’m sitting here having my last breakfast (on a paper plate with a plastic fork) at my Mom’s house. I leave for a quick little beach getaway in a few hours. And when I get back I’ll be going straight to my Dad’s house to live with him and my stepmom. Who knows if or when I’ll be back in this house again.  It’s all very surreal.

As I mentioned in my last blog, my Mom was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer two days before I left to move to Vietnam. I came back in December to take care of her and was in the process of moving back to Vietnam at the end of January. But the chemo stopped working at the beginning of January and she quickly went downhill and passed away on January 24 (which also happens to be my birthday). During that last week, I worked with the organization in Vietnam to push my start date.

And then COVID-19 happened, it’s June and I’m still in the US.

The original plan when everyone thought I was going to be moving to Vietnam was for my sister-in-law’s mother and grandmother to move into Mom’s house (my brother now owns it and the land). My Dad and stepmom have been renovating an old log cabin and will be moving there and my brother and family will move to the family farm. Since I’m still here, I’ve been living at Mom’s while trying to clean out and pack up everything (huge shoutout to my aunts for helping on multiple occasions before the virus hit!!).

The cleaning and packing has multiple layers: 1) donate 2) keep 3) throw away and 4) what to do with my stuff.

Donate: we’ve already taken 2 trailer loads off and have at least one more. The donation center was closed for a couple of months due to the virus but has recently opened back up (yeah!)

Keep: obviously there are keepsakes of Moms we wanted to keep, plus some furniture my brother wants and dishes and crafts my niece wants. The question became ‘where do we store it all?’

Throw-away: oh my goodness the amount of trash! And since the virus, the garbage pickup will only get items in the garbage can – nothing sitting on the ground. We should have gotten a dumpster…it would have been easier.

My stuff: Back in 2016, I sold/gave away most of what I owned, joined the Peace Corps, and moved to Morocco. What’s left is keepsake items and some clothes. I just figured everything would be here at Moms until I decided to live in the US again. So now some things are in a storage shed and others (that I don’t want the weather to affect) are going to my brother’s house and a few things at my Dad’s.  Maybe I need to keep a list of what’s going where?

Over the last couple of months, I wasn’t too concerned with getting everything done since I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel back to Vietnam. So I was slowly making my way through closets and drawers. But 10 days ago my sister-in-law’s grandmother’s house sold and they have 30 days to move out. This means we had to get everything done here and that’s how I’ve spent my last week.  Shew!

So far 2020 has definitely been a story. Just not one any of us could have imagined. Dealing with the emotions of losing my Mom, not being able to move to Vietnam and pursue my teaching career, the effects of COVID and staying healthy at home, recent protests (not all of which are peaceful) due to the systemic racism in our country sparked by the horrible death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery over the past several weeks, and now leaving a house my Mom lived in for 27 years has been tough.

For most of the last 5 months, I’ve been in a major funk. I’ve felt like my life was out of control, I have no answers for my future and my health and fitness have gone to the wayside. On the other hand, I’m thankful I live in a small rural town near my family and have been able to get outside anytime I want (most places in the world have not been able to do that during this pandemic). I see my family several times a week and have enjoyed spending more time with my niece and nephews.

But I’m ready to start working again. I’m ready for a new beginning. I’m ready for a new story. I’m ready for change.


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2019 Year In Review

Over the past week, I’ve seen a lot of people post about how they are glad that 2019 is coming to end because it was such an awful year. At first, I was like ‘yeah! Me too!’ but then I stopped and thought about and realized 2019 was actually a good year.

I brought in the new year in Odesa, Ukraine with a friend and then continued to travel through Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Caucasus for two and a half months. Most of this was solo travel and I learned a very important lesson – I LiKE to travel solo! I then spent six months in the US hanging out with my family and friends and trying to figure out the next phase of my life. I spent a few weeks road-tripping with a girlfriend and hanging out on my cousins’ boat. I ate all my favorite foods that I missed while living in Morocco and drank way more Dr. Pepper than I should have – but it was worth it. I moved to Hanoi to earn my CELTA teaching certificate, met some really cool people and saw lots of cool things. And I read A LOT of books over the year (81 to be exact).

The bump in the road was my Mom being hospitalized and finding out she has advanced pancreatic cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy and it seems to be working – it’s just extremely difficult on the body. I’m currently home helping take care of her and spending what may be her last holiday season with her.

Is 2019 the end of the decade or do we have one more year? There seems to be a lot of debate about this. All I know is that I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring. I don’t necessarily have resolutions, but I always have goals and a never-ending bucket list. My goals are to make healthy choices in all aspects of life, read more books from around the world (especially by female authors) and travel to new places. I move back to Vietnam in a couple of weeks to start my new teaching career in Vinh, a coastal city. I hope I make an impact on those I teach and others I come in contact with.

Life is full of ups and downs. It’s what we learn from each of these that determines our outlook on life and our future. I’m thankful for the good and the bad – that’s how I grow as a person.

2019 is in the books and 2020 is a new story waiting to be written.

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2019 Books

The annual list of the books I read this year.  My goal was 50 and I read 80 (plus one re-read).  Four and Five star ratings are highly recommended.  Several of these books fit in my Reading Around The World goal. And many were by female authors – on purpose.

Rating      January

5 stars     A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

5 stars     The House by the River by Lena Manta

3 stars     Marry Me by Sundown by Johanna Lindsey

5 stars     The Queen: Aretha Franklin by Mikal Gilmore

3 stars     Power Moves: Lessons from Davos by Adam M. Grant


5 stars     War Childhood, Sarajevo 1992-1995 by Jasminko Halilovic

4 stars     It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs

4 stars     In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

5 stars     Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo


4 stars     The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman

4 stars     Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King

1 star      Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

5 stars     Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali                        by Kris Holloway

4 stars    Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution                        by Caroline Weber

5 stars     The Malta Exchange (Cotton Malone, #14) by Steve Berry

4 stars      The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan

4 stars     A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker

3 stars     The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin


3 stars     Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

5 stars     Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen

5 stars     Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

4 stars     The Beautiful Brain by Hana Walker-Brown

4 stars     A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain

5 stars     First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

4 stars     Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

3 stars     Exit West by Mohsin Hamid


5 stars     I Remember Abu by Humayun Azad

3 stars     Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelwald by J.K. Rowling

5 stars     Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

4 stars     The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

5 stars     Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch by Ruth Cowen

5 stars     Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

5 stars     Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI            by David Grann

5 stars     Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

1 star      Tenth of December of George Saunders

3 stars     The 3-Day Effect

4 stars     A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves, and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport                  by Kate Stewart


5 stars     Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

5 stars     The Sugar Detox: Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Look Years Younger                      by Brooke Alpert & Patricia Farris

5 stars     The Night Tiger by  Yangsze Choo

5 stars     The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai


5 stars     A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

5 stars     Temptations Darling by Johanna Lindsey

5 stars     Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

5 stars     From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home by Tembi Locke


4 stars     Rage by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

4 stars     Guns by Stephen King

5 stars     Christmas Past: The Chronicles of St Mary’s #8.6 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     A Perfect Storm: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #8.5 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     The Battersea Barricades: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #9.5 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     The Steam-Pump Jump: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #9.6 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     And Now for Something Completely Different: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #9.7 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     A Short Ride in the Jungle: The Ho Chi Minh Trail by Motorcycle by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

4 stars     The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton

5 stars     Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

4 stars     Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

3 stars     The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson


3 stars    American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt by Karen Harper

2 stars    The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg

5 stars    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (re-read)

5 stars    The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

3 stars    The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

5 stars    Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi


5 stars    Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson


3 stars    You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

4 stars    The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

5 stars    Hope for the Best (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #10) by Jodi Taylor

4 stars    Midnight Son by James Dommek Jr

4 stars    You Can Thank Me Later by Kelly Harmes

5 stars    When Did You Last See Your Father (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #10.5) by Jodi Taylor


5 stars    Without a Country by Ayse Kulin

5 stars    Baghdad Without a Map by Tony Horwitz

3 stars    Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

5 stars    Getting Stoned with the Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J. Maarten Troost

4 stars    1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

4 stars    The Monk of Mokha by David Eggers

3 stars    Rose of Sarajevo by Ayse Kulin

3 stars    The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

1 star     A Castle in Romagna by Igor Stiks

4 stars    Essentials of English Grammar by L. Sue Baugh

5 stars My Grandmother: An Armenian-Turkish Memoir by Fethiye Cetin

4 stars Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer

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