A Year of Firsts and Friendships
The year of 2016 was a year of firsts for me. I went on a mission trip, took watercolor classes, traveled to Africa, had a hysterectomy, attended a BillyJoel concert, traveled to Cuba, made my first cooking video, learned to play pickleball, taught over 35 cooking classes, and trekked for gorillas. There may have been other firsts, but my most memorable moments of 2016 were the friendships I made, and the lessons I learned.
In February my husband took me to Tucson, Arizona for the world’s largest Bead and Gem show. Because I had just had a hysterectomy, he had to push me in a wheelchair for three days while I selected loads of gorgeous beads and gems for my jewelry projects. I also took several jewelry classes and learned a few new techniques. The show had dozens of exhibits all over the city of Tucson, and it was truly an amazing experience, especially when being pushed around in a wheelchair!
Traveling to the Dominican Republic in February to teach women to sew and cook was one of the most rewarding things I did all year. My new friends Anna and Allison, my assistants and interpreters, made this trip the best it could have been. I plan to return in 2017 to teach more cooking to these women who work hard to run their own businesses with the assistance of Esperanza, a micro-finance organization.
In May, I traveled to Cuba with my friend Cindy for a culinary tour of Havana and Trinidad. Our guide Acaris, and driver Tony, became fast friends with us as we rode all over the island in Tony’s immaculate ’55 Chevy. After a week with them, we sadly said our goodbyes in hopes that someday they would have internet technology to keep in touch through emails. Although Cindy and I learned so much about Cuba’s food and culture, it was the people that left the greatest impression on us.
June was a really busy month. I had my 51st birthday, and then traveled to Rwanda with a small group of people who help support Hope International’s micro-finance programs there. The Rwandans I met are some of the most passionate and creative people I’ve ever known. After five days of visiting homes, churches, and museums, I connected with a local guide, Bernard. He and I spent five days driving to enjoy the beautiful Volcano National Park. I joined a group of tourists to trek for the Mountain gorillas, which were absolutely fascinating. The following day, I trekked for Golden monkeys, known to live only in the mountains of Rwanda. Bernard and I became great friends, and it was through him that I learned so much about the Rwandan and Ugandan people.
Following my Rwandan adventure I stopped in Paris and met up with my “British bestie”, Rachael. She and I met five years ago in India on a culinary tour. She lives in Suffolk, England, and loves food as much as I do. We have traveled together every year since we’ve met, and cooked together numerous times. We spent six food-filled days in Paris and the Loire Valley soaking up every bit of culture and morsel of delicious food we could get our hands on. We’re already working on our travel plans for 2017, and it’s going to be special!
Italy & Greece
In September, my husband and I traveled with our friends, Mitch and Shannon to Italy and Greece. The husbands are history buffs, and the two Shannons listened to the explanations as best we could, but shopping and eating were higher priorities for us. We traveled around a large section of Italy, and spent several days in Athens and Santorini, Greece. I spent a day in Santorini touring vineyards and cooking tomato fritters with a restaurant chef. At the end of 19 days of travel, my husband and our friends went home, and I traveled to southern Italy with my friend Katherine. We explored the region of Puglia, and took wine tours, food tours, and stayed in quaint hotels for a fraction of the price of a hotel in Rome or Florence. Puglia will soon become well-known to the rest of the world, so I highly recommend visiting there soon. We met the de Vitis family in Lucca, who produces their own olive oil, and we brought home over 45 pounds of it to share!
Santa Fe, NEW MEXICO
As the oldest of three sisters, I had the responsibility of planning a sister trip to celebrate the middle sister’s 50th birthday. We traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico where we rented a house, and shared stories and many laughs for days. It was the first trip together for just the three of us, and it went so well that, we decided to make it a yearly adventure.
Thanksgiving was spent in Colorado with family, including my son and daughter, who were both in college. Beef tenderloin and Colorado lamb adorned the Thanksgiving table, and I didn’t make a thing!
Somehow, I was able to make enough jewelry throughout the year to have a show in November, and I sold 80 pieces in one night. Between my jewelry show and Christmas parties, I connected with most of my closest friends at the end of this busy year. All of our children and my extended family were home for Christmas, and my kitchen was a constant center of cooking and laughter. Even though I was able to experience many new places, foods, and cultures, when it comes down to it, my family and friends are really what made 2016 one of the best years ever.