Hello, 2020!

michelle asmara youngandfrecklous

Well, damn! It’s 2020!

To say 2019 flew by… would be inaccurate. LOL. Some months felt like two weeks. Some weeks felt like two years! It’s been wild, wonderful, frustrating as HELL… but more than anything, this year was a freakin’ full one 🙂

And I don’t know about you, but “FULL” is definitely a TOP 3 ADJECTIVE I aim to achieve when it comes to living! 

2019, I’ll remember you always. Not only because you were the year I entered a new decade, but also because you were the year I:

1. Moved to Brussels

2019 began with a bang: I moved back to Europe! Those who know me know that after I stopped full-time backpacking I moved to my favorite city in the world, Paris. I couldn’t have known just how life-changing my time there would be — from the conception of my first novel to the beginning of the incredible relationship I’m in right now — but I fell madly in love. 

With writing, the boy and the city.

So imagine my surprise (shock… horror…) when Boyfriend told me he’d accepted a mission in… Brussels! What would I do away from my friends, my favorite library, my boulangerie, my muse?

Little did I know that Brussels would provide me with not only the perfect hub from which to explore Europe, but also the the support, the resources and the home base I didn’t know I needed to make this year one of the most exciting and productive of my life! 

So cheers to a full year of Belgian fries, beer and chocolate. To music festivals and city-wide celebrations. To visiting the Royal Greenhouses during the one week it opens. To touring countless friends, old and new, through increasingly familiar streets. To watching the Tour de France whizz by. It’s really been quite lovely <3

2. Got to Know My New Belgian Home

Most people I meet don’t know anything about Belgium other than that Brussels is the capital. But Boyfriend and I got to know the country intimately, traveling somewhere outside the city almost every other weekend. 

Leuven’s famous university library, Ghent’s student-friendly quai, Bruge’s canals, Hallerbos forest’s bluebell flowers, Dinant’s riverside jazz walk, Mechelen’s brewery, and Blankenberge’s beaches are only a few of the fun places we got to see while living in this SUPER-connected country!

3. Caught Up with Friends All Over Europe

One of the best things about traveling is the countless life-changing people you get the opportunity to meet. One of the best things about living in Europe is that you get to reconnect with a bunch of them!

This year I traveled to Cologne for a reunion with a handful of amazing women I feel so lucky to know. I got to see my wild and wonderful Belgian homegirl, both where she lived in Ghent and where I lived in Brussels, frequently. I celebrated the birthday of one of my most constant, kick-ass girlfriends in Amsterdam. I attended a music festival AT the Loire Valley’s famous Chateau Chambord!

I’m just gonna say it: I LOVE LIVING IN EUROPE!

4. Celebrated 25 in Rome

I LOVE visiting Rome! I feel like I’m always discovering a new place, a new restaurant, a new area, and always with someone different. This time it was Trastevere, Rome’s vibrant bohemian quarter, and it was with my darling boyfriend… for his 25th birthday!

Babedoll (as he’s most often known in our home) and I spent the better part of a week running around a town that’s pretty much a living museum, swapping real meals for charcuterie snacks and pizzas, sipping cocktails on the Tiber and trying trattoria after trattoria in Trastevere! 

5. Finished and Submitted My First Manuscript

This summer I accomplished my proudest, most important personal achievement in a long long time: I finished my first novel! I began this book back when I was living in Paris, writing between Bibliothèque Mazzarine and Saint-Genviève at La Sorbonne. I finished it, and the next year I finished another!

Then I moved to Brussels, sat down at the Brussels National Library, took out that first novel to begin making submissions to agents… and hated it. It didn’t feel right. The tone was off. The characters didn’t read how I wanted them to. And they didn’t do enough to reel me in. Me. The author. I was devastated.

youngandfrecklous brussels
Writing my little butt off in the Journaux reading room at La Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique

But, honey, I refused to give up. I’d worked so hard, I loved the concept, I believed so much in the story, the characters and their love. And that’s not to mention HOW READY I believe romance readers are for a love story that goes beyond small towns and workplaces! So I tore that sum’bitch up, kept the pieces I loved, threw out the pieces I didn’t, and re-wrote the entire. effing. thing. It took two months to write, three months to edit, one month to package up for agents…

And I love every page <3 <3 

(*Note: I’ve cut over 5,000 more words from the pictured Scrivener draft above… Hey, I did say it took “three months to edit”!)

6. Wine Ob-SESSED in Bordeaux

Fun fact: The hero in my novel is an eight-generation Saint-Émilion vineyard owner! So it seemed a literal crime that I hadn’t actually been down to the see the area in real life yet. Luckily Easy Jet flights from Brussels were DIRT CHEAP down to Bordeaux, so Boyfriend and I hopped one to visit for an extra-long weekend in September. 

Bordeaux was gorgeous. Saint-Émilion was everything I dreamed it would be. We rented a car, tasted allll the wine, and stayed at an AirBnB surrounded by bursting vineyards right in the middle of harvest season. As wine enthusiasts, we were in our own personal heaven <3

7. Celebrated 30 in Croatia

Croatia surprised me in more ways than I can believe! Being the travel nut I am, I knew I had to celebrate turning 30 (holyshit) somewhere awesome. Boyfriend and I were craving the sun and, incredibly, the sun was what we got for nine full days of road-tripping down Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast! 

From Split, to Hvar, to Omiš, to Makarska, to Ston, to the Peljesac Peninsula, to Korčula and on to Dubrovnik, Croatia was a trip I’ll never, ever forget. We were there at the end of shoulder season and everything should’ve been closed, but because the weather was so freakin’ beautiful the country decided to show off! We got to see the best of Croatia — calm ancient streets, almost private beaches, crystal clear waters, kind and generous locals — sans tourists.

And it wouldn’t have been even half as special without my sweetest, lovingest chauffeur Babedoll <3

8. Hosted Thanksgiving (and Boyfriend) in the USA

With my visa expiring and a big… change… coming for Boyfriend and me (Hint: We may or may not be located somewhere much sunnier in 2020), the States were calling me back! Well, the States… and my parents 🙂

Because those crazy kids not only celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, they just bought a new house in South Florida! It’s beautiful, freshly painted and now, thanks to a couple weeks of packing, planning and more packing, all moved in! And what better way to celebrate than to host a big Thanksgiving party with a very special guest?

That’s right! Babedoll came home with me for Thanksgiving 🙂 And saw his first gator. And had his first Budweiser. And experienced his first Thanksgiving dinner and, of course, his first Black Friday 😉

9. Partied in New Orleans

My parents got their start in New Orleans <3 For the first five years of their marriage, they lived and worked in the city. They lived just down the street from where my dad worked at Commander’s Palace with Paul Prudhomme, who ended up mentoring him into becoming the Manhattan chef he became. And I’d still never visited! So when Spirit Airlines offered us a roundtrip flight we couldn’t refuse, Boyfriend and I jumped on it to spend a long weekend in the Big Easy. 

NOLA at Christmastime is gorgeous and surprisingly WARM! We hung out on Bourbon Street, partied on Frenchman, ate our weight in oysters (both raw and charbroiled), and even got a hefty helping of history at Whitney and Oak Alley Plantations. An awesome way to wrap up a full, incredible year!

Oh hay, new year!

I have a heart full of hopes for 2020 — Don’t we all?! — but even more for the decade it ushers in. I’ve got an armload of places I want to visit. I have mountains earmarked to climb. I have fears to face, skills to gain, growth to achieve. Most of all I have ambitions I intend to see through with everything I’ve got!

So let’s do this guys! Why shouldn’t this be the year we accomplish that thing we’ve been wanting to do/see/try/be? Game faces! Focused minds! Open hearts! Positive thoughts! Are you ready? Good.

Because 2020 starts… NOW!


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