Delicious Barcelona

satans_coffee_barcelona

One more post about Barcelona today, friends! This time, the good stuff: the food, drinks and coffees we snacked on around the city. In Michael’s travel planning post, he mentioned how he likes to have options for food and drinks wherever he is in the city we’re exploring. This keeps us from getting snappy with each other because we’re hungry and don’t know where to go for a quick snack or a bigger meal. Michael did this on our trip to Barcelona and it was a life-saver, as always.

First things first, let’s start with coffee spots. We made breakfast in our apartment each morning with eggs and avocados from the market around the corner. Then we headed straight for the coffee.

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We tried Satan’s Coffee Corner, Mitte, and Cafe Ona. Satan’s Coffee Corner, the first two photos in this post, pushed our limits of hipsterness, if we’re being terribly honest. The decor was cool and the coffee was delicious, but the hipster level was through the roof. They seemed to serve only donuts, chia pudding and toast. They also had a big sign that said ‘no wifi, no decaf’, so there’s that. I did love that bright yellow bench though!

barcelona_mitte_cafe

Mitte was much more my speed. I thought the decor was so pretty and different from what we have in Dublin. The coffee was Spanish style and very drinkable. Mitte has a little art gallery in the front and whenever we walked by in the early evening, there were lots of people having drinks and chatting.

We tried another coffee spot, Cafe Ona, and the coffee was really yummy and specially imported from Costa Rica. Unfortunately, all three were closed on Sunday, which meant we couldn’t go back for another try!  mitte_cafe_barcelona

Now for tapas! We ate all of them. Here’s what we loved.  norte_cafe_tapas_barcelona

We stopped at Norte for a late lunch one afternoon, when the light was streaming in and glowing off the white walls. I wore my sunglasses inside it was so bright. Also, how sweet are the little posies of holly? Next year, my whole house is going to be filled with those little guys.  norte_cafe_holly_berries

We tried this delicious white fish and lemony potatoes, which is a speciality of the region and we loved it. I ate all of the olives because Michael doesn’t like them and every time, I’m grateful I married someone with whom I never have to share olives. Yum.

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The first night we arrived, the owner of the apartment we rented suggested a spot around the corner called Betlem. We tried to go back again but it was closed early on Sunday. From the minty branding to the pork belly with lemony potatoes, we loved this place. If Norte and Betlem moved to Dublin I would never cook at home.  betlem_barcelona milk_bar_barcelona

One night we had to eat some salads. I ordered totally the wrong one, but Milk was cheap and cheerful and had yummy cocktails. There was actually an Irish Times cut-out on the wall from a review, which cracked us up. It was a little student-y but we were grateful for the vegetables.

Another night, we ate in Tlaxcal, a Mexican restaurant with really delicious tacos. Michael tries to find at least one place he can drink nice tequila in each place we visit, and I try to go with it since I won’t say no to a margarita, no matter where I am! I took no photos, but I’d really recommend it. You will need to make a reservation, though, at least on the weekend, because it fills up and the host wasn’t so excited about walk-ins even when there appeared to be tables free. It’s in the Born neighborhood, which is really fun to wander in the evening. Lots of shops and cafes and locals.

el_nacional_bar_barcelona barcelona_national_bar Finally, Michael found the coolest bar for after-dinner drinks on our last night. El Nacional is kind of like an upscale market filled with bars. It’s one large, high-ceiling-ed building with different bars each with a different vibe. Some of them are restaurants as well, but we picked the most Mad Men-esque section and ordered a few old fashioneds. Can you even get over that bar wall? Everything was lit perfectly.

So we clearly didn’t go hungry on our visit to Barcelona. We were pretty excited about the range of options that weren’t as heavy as I sometimes remember tapas to be. We had lots of patatas bravas, but there were lots of interesting and light vegetable options that helped balance them out. I think we’ll have a hard time not going to just the same places when we make it back to Barcelona, we enjoyed them all that much!

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Cosy Dublin Cafe / Considered by Helen James

considerd_cafe_dublin_helen_james There’s a new cafe on the block and I’m smitten with its utter cosiness! It’s called Considered and it’s taken up residence in a little spot in the Creative Quarter on Drury Street. I’ve been twice in the last few weeks and so far it’s been the perfect spot for sharing chats over hot chocolates with friends on winter afternoons.

cosy dublin cafe baked goods at considered cafe dublin

Considered is both a cafe and a product line by designer Helen James. So you can buy her products in select Dunnes stores around the country, as well as in the Considered cafe on Drury Street. Helen has designed a really lovely (and reasonably priced) line of kitchen goods, like marble rolling pins and pottery canisters, aprons, tea towels, jams and sauces.

The cafe has a selection of soups and hot and cold sandwiches, lots of treats baked in house daily, and some pretty yummy hot chocolate. It’s not very large, just one big table and some bar stools looking out the window, but if you can nab a seat it’s really pleasant. Kind of exactly how you’d want your own kitchen to feel at home. Some day.  soup and sandwiches dublin cafe sandwich_considered_cafe_dublin cosy dublin cafe

The cafe uses the little sugar and creamer sets from the Considered range, which is a sweet touch. There are bits of grey and pink everywhere, which is quite peaceful. The bar stools are a super place to people watch, as well. You can practically wave to the girls in the Irish Design Shop from your perch!  hot chocolate dublin cafe good things take time dublin cafe croissants_helen_james_considered_cafe_dublin helen_james_design_dunnes_range

It’s well worth a visit if you need a place to warm up in Dublin!

Considered Cafe by Helen James / 42 Drury Street / Dublin 2

 

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This Is (Sometimes a Lot of) Water

A few months ago, I read a post by Kate Arends on Wit & Delight that referenced the commencement speech by David Foster Wallace called “This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.” I watched it and loved it and saved it to the running draft email to myself with the subject line ‘Things that are great’. Because it is great.

Have you heard it before? It’s a commencement speech given at Kenyon College in 2005. The message – that we have the choice of perspective that can guard us against the mundane, everyday annoyances of the world – often comes flooding back to me. How about that for a pun?!

Have you watched it yet? It’s nine minutes and worth every second.

Okay, we’ll assume you’ve watched it now. For the sake of this story. But seriously, you should watch it.

Ten days each month, I make the trek to the office where I do marketing and online editing for a wedding magazine and an interiors magazine. I enjoy my work and the people I do it with immensely, but it involves a commute that I find draining. The office recently moved and the trek now involves a half hour train ride, followed by a twenty minute cycle, followed by a twenty minute walk. Somehow, since the office moved farther from my house on the north side of Dublin just before Christmas, that trek has almost always involved either rain or wind or often both rain and wind. And so many potholes and so much swan poop.

Unlike the references in David Foster Wallace’s address, which mostly involve the potential annoyances people provide in our day to day lives, the annoyances I face on those ten days are almost always natural. Some days I feel like I physically can’t keep cycling or walking against the wind or into the rain. Sometimes I just don’t want to keep dodging swan poop on the sidewalk and weaving in and out of people walking my way (did you know in Dublin there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to which side of the sidewalk you walk on? It’s a constant and exhausting game of chicken).

But I have taken to reminding myself: This is water. This is it. This is all we get. The every day is most of it. And my positive attitude against wind and rain and potholes and swan poop is my choice.

The irony hit me only this week as I was reciting this is water, this is water, on my way home after a long day, getting stung in the face with droplets of windy Dublin water.

***

If you really learn how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred. On fire with the same force that lit the stars. With love, fellowship, the mystical one-ness of all things deep down. 

You get to consciously decide what has meaning, and what doesn’t. That is real freedom. 

The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing. 

The capital T truth is about life before death, it is about the real value of a real education which has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness. 

Awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over, this is water, this is water. 

**

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Oh, the Places We’ll Go…in 2015

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Berlin, 2012

Happy Friday, everybody! We’re barely a few weeks into 2015 and the calendar seems to be filling up quite quickly. It’s like you blink and the calendar goes from blank to multi-colored with dates and events and excitement! In the first half of this year, we have some trips planned and a few more are already starting to come together. I feel like we live each year in six month segments between visits back to the States. It makes each year absolutely fly by, because there’s so much to look forward to and to fit in between those trips.

So even though I’m not quite finished telling you about Barcelona (one more post on all things food and drinks next week!), I thought I’d start talking about 2015’s trips. It makes me equally tired and excited to write them all down!

Dingle

There are a few spots around Ireland I still haven’t visited, and Dingle is at the top of the list. Dingle is one of Michael’s favorite places in the country and he spent several weeks there a few years ago studying Irish for his job as a guidance counsellor in an Irish speaking school. He still raves about it, so we’re joining a few friends for a weekend there in March, we hope!

Amsterdam

I’m about to pull the trigger on flights to Amsterdam in March as well, to spend a few days with my friends Ashley and Anne, who live in Berlin and Paris respectively. I haven’t been to Amsterdam in a few years, so I’m excited for a little exploring and lots of coffee shops and wine.

Berlin

I’m heading to Berlin for the Hive Conference for the first time in a few years. This year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Hive’s organiser and founder, Yvonne, to research speakers and write their monthly newsletter. I’m very excited about this year’s event – with speakers like Chelsea Fuss of Frolic and Corina of Cocorrina –  which returns to Berlin after a year in Copenhagen. I’ll get to see my friend Ashley again for a few days and hopefully visit the best and biggest craft store I’ve been dreaming about since my last visit.

Croatia

Michael came home a few months ago from a basketball fundraiser with two short-haul tickets on Aer Lingus for us to use within the year. This guy has the best luck when it comes to travel prizes. Our first year here, he won a whole trip to Amsterdam! We think we’re going to use the free flights to go to Croatia for a week around Easter time. Michael has two weeks off and we want to go somewhere warm-ish that we’ve never been before. We’re thinking of taking a whole week to do both city and beach in Croatia. If you have experience there, we’d love your thoughts!

Thailand

Gah. Thailand. It makes my stomach get a little nervous just thinking about getting on a plane for that long, but Michael has been wanting to go to Asia for a long time now. He’s been doing lots of research on places to stay and resorts to lounge, so I’m going to hold my tongue (and my breath!) and going along for the ride!

Somewhere New in America!

We’ll be in America again this summer, like always, this year probably in July or so. I’d love to do a little exploring to somewhere we haven’t been before within the States. Austin? New Orleans? Nashville? All those places are probably sweltering in the summer, but we’ll see!

Are you filling your calendar with adventures already? Any tips for visiting any of these places? You guys always have the best suggestions. Have a really wonderful weekend!

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What We Loved in Barcelona

pointsettia_barcelona

Time to get down to brass tacks and share the rest of our visit to Barcelona. Today I wanted to share where we stayed and explored. Now that we’ve gotten the Sagrada Familia out of the way, I think we can manage!

We so enjoyed ourselves in that sunny city, and we’ve already said we’d like to go back. We spent four days and three nights eating all the tapas, drinking lots of wine, and checking out all of their hipster-est coffee shops. All those spots later this week. But today, I thought it would be fun to tell you what we loved exploring and where we stayed while we were there. Here we go!

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First, we stayed in an Airbnb apartment that was super. Michael found it by chance in the millions available for Barcelona and we’d definitely stay there again. The owner, Raimundo, made so many great recommendations and incredibly friendly. It was a one bedroom with floor to ceiling navy velvet curtains and a bed that has convinced us to upgrade our mattress at home. It was right around the corner from the Metro, which brings me to the second thing we loved about Barcelona: the Metro was fast and clean and came really often! We can never get over how fun it is to miss a train in continental cities – you only have to wait a few minutes for the next one! In Dublin, that is not the case.

michael_train_barcelona

Since we had heard a lot of stories about friends getting pickpocketed in Barcelona, we were really conscious of our belongings at all times. At one point, I was holding my camera by the strap in one hand and an older woman stopped me to tell me to put the strap around my neck since sometimes bad dudes will just run by and grab your camera. So it stayed right around my neck the rest of the visit! We thankfully made it through the weekend without any incidents.

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Now, let’s get down to the fun stuff. First, Antoni Gaudí’s architecture (like the Sagrada Familia) is everywhere and mind-blowing and all under construction. Well, maybe not all of it, but all of the buildings we saw were at least partly covered in scaffolding. Some of them, like the Sagrada Familia, are simply not finished yet, and some of them are now being repaired.

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We took the metro, then climbed the hill, then rode the escalator up to the Parc Guell. Another Barcelona feature designed by Gaudi, Parc Guell is a park commandeered by the city in the early 1900’s as a place for residents to escape to. We did see a few locals running the paths through the hill nearby, but otherwise the Parc Guell was pretty packed with tourists. The Parc Guell wasn’t our favorite spot in the city for that reason, it’s just hard to enjoy a place when all you see are selfie sticks and GoPro cameras! Of course, the view was hazy which didn’t help. parc_guell_ceiling

But it was impressive nonetheless. Can you even believe all those little bits of mosaic?

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Then we rolled our way back down the hill to the city center and with all the passing tourists going the other direction, we were really glad we had already left! We were much happier wandering the streets and gazing up at all the plants and flags hanging off the balconies. barcelona_balconies barcelona_balconies_2 balconies_barcelona

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Also, oranges! In December! I’m quite proud of my restraint in only posting one photo of the oranges, considering my phone and camera were both full of them. It’s my dream to one day live in a place where I can grow citrus on a tree in the garden, even if it’s just for a little while. And if I come to visit you and you have citrus trees, I will probably pick them all.

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We visited the Picasso Museum, where the only photo I took was of these spiky palm fronds in the courtyard. The Picasso Museum is almost worth the entrance fee just to see the building. It’s a labyrinth of stone rooms, and Picasso was a genius. From the time he was a child he was painting portraits and he went away to art school to study full time when he was just a teen.

We made a quick visit to the Mercat de la Boqueria market, which we found to be a little too crowded for our liking. We sat in the back for a little while and had a delicious platter of patatas bravas and stopped for a few  pieces of overpriced chocolate on the way out, but then we skedaddled!  mercado_barcelona_chocolates market_stall_barcelona

We preferred the local market near our apartment where we stocked up on clementines and fresh eggs and already ripe avocados for breakfast. It was much calmer and felt more authentic. Can you even believe the selection of fruits and vegetables available in December?

Of course, it was also just before Christmas when we were in Barcelona, so there were little Christmas markets full of pointsettias and mistletoe. They are also big into nativity scenes, so we saw lots of tiny figurines. And also moss? We couldn’t figure out why there was so much moss and bark, but I think they use it to give their nativity scenes a little more ambiance and texture. Correct me if I’m wrong with that guess from left field!  christmas_markets_barcelona mistletoe_berries

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The lights were so fun and so different from Dublin’s Christmas lights. We really liked the upside down gumdrop lights below.  IMG_5488

barcelona_fountain_lights

This light show wasn’t part of the Christmas decorations, it happens all year round. It’s called the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc and we weren’t its biggest fans. I really think swarms of tourists are my instant off button.

traffic_christmas_lights_barcelona Later in the week, I’ll share where we ate and shared tapas and had a few drinks. Until then, have a really wonderful Tuesday!

 

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2015 Calendars from DURIDO

calendars_2015

I finally took down our 2014 calendar this weekend, and belatedly dove into the 2015 calendar rabbit hole of Etsy. Our calendar lives right inside our front door, so I’d like something that blends in with the look of the entry room. The color scheme (to be revealed soon) is a mix of red and turquoise and blue.

Any one of these calendars from Slovenian Etsy shop DURIDO would be so cheery to see every day. I’m leaning toward the bottom two, the red one is probably the front-runner of the moment.

What’s your favorite?

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Barcelona / Light at the Sagrada Familia

sagrada_familia_stained_glass I started to write a post about our time in Barcelona before Christmas, actually I started it days ago on the bus from Maine to Boston to catch my flight to Dublin. When my computer wouldn’t upload 53 photos on the bus wifi (go figure), I thought it might make sense to break Barcelona up into a few posts.

I’m going to share where we stayed and ate and caffeinated (very important when Michael is dragging you to tequila restaurants in the evenings!) next week, but for now we’ll start with this incredible cathedral. The Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi, is still in the process of being completed. In fact, it won’t be completed until the middle of this century! It was absolutely the highlight of our visit and I think you’ll be able to see why.  sagrada_familia_light

We visited the Sagrada Familia in the afternoon, at about 2:30pm, which is just about the time when the sunlight streams through the stained glass windows and turns the whole place into a giant kaleidoscope. It was incredible.  emily_sagrada_familia_2 sagrada_familia_light_2 We’ve seen many cathedrals in our travels, as most people have, and I’m always impressed by the workmanship and detail that went into them. But the design of the Sagrada Familia was just so different from anything I’d ever seen or imagined. I just think Barcelona was so ahead of its time when it agreed to let Gaudi design so many of their buildings! He was a crazy genius, to say the least.  sagrada_familia_ceiling

There is another artist, Joan Vila-Grau, to thank for the stained glass that flooded the Sagrada Familia with that incredible light. The work on the stained glass only started in 1999, and I think it adds so much atmosphere and magic to the building.  michael_sagrada_familia sagrada_familia_barcelona_ceiling

The architecture was much more geometric and more naturally-inspired than traditional cathedrals. The columns reminded me of stalactites and stalagmites in a cave.

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Meanwhile, the outside of the Sagrada Familia has always reminded me of those sandcastles you can make by dripping wet sand into little towers. Up close, it’s more intricate than that and it’s hard to believe real humans carved those shapes from stone.  emily_sagrada_familia

Michael booked us tickets to climb one of the towers, the Nativity Tower, which is supposed to be more the picturesque of the two towers because it’s on the more finished side of the cathedral. And the theme was fitting because it was just before Christmas. Honestly, we couldn’t see that much of the structure itself, but we could see this amazing view of the city all the way down to the water!

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You need to book tickets in advance, but you don’t have to print them. You can just use the barcode on your phone, which saves a lot of trouble. If you’re going to Barcelona, absolutely, definitely plan to visit the Sagrada Familia, just try to organise some sunshine for your arrival!

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Mixing Lives

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On Christmas Eve, my family sat around the table together for the dinner we always have on Christmas Eve, or at least for as long as I can remember. In fact, now we have it whether we’re apart or together, since I’ve started making the same thing in Dublin as well, but it’s even more special in its original place.

My mom made her French onion soup and fresh French bread and salad. This year, we added specially imported (in my suitcase!) artisan Irish butter that was so much more yellow and delicious than its American counterparts. And we sat at a table decked out with an Irish linen tablecloth I sent my mom last year for Christmas. We share a few bottles of red, a montepulciano and a tempranillo. Since my father-in-law introduced those to our family, they’re the go-to’s now.

 

 

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I like when my two lives mix so happily.

 

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Ireland for Foodie Visitors

avoca_vegetable_soup

Want to know what we packed alongside Christmas presents when we came to Maine last month? Irish butter. We meant to pack some Irish cream as well, but we thought that might make a much bigger mess if it spilled in the suitcase. We just couldn’t imagine spending the holiday without a little Irish dairy, we are that addicted.

I wrote a piece for Conde Nast Traveler before Christmas about ten foods you have to try when you’re visiting Ireland. It was so hard to narrow the list down to only ten, and there is a very strong dairy theme that will probably become clear pretty quickly! I’d love to hear what you’d add to the list. If I had another ten to add, I’d include Keogh’s crisps and Butler’s hot chocolate. Nothing like starting Monday morning hungry!

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2015: Resolutions and Goals

2015 resolutions

As promised, today is about resolutions and goals. Some people aren’t big on the lists, but I am not those people. Partly because I’ve never felt too much pressure to perfectly complete my New Year’s resolutions. It took me two years of resolving to stop cursing for it to really work. The first year was an improvement, but the second year I really kicked it. Now I only swear in very dire circumstances, which I think is a pretty okay way to live life. A few years ago, I resolved to stop using cans and jars of pre-made sauces in our cooking and we’ve nearly cut out all of that as well. I could do better on salsa and pasta sauce, but they’re the only hold outs of the bunch, really.

So in the spirit of making resolutions again and making them stick, here are this year’s! Full disclosure, 1,2,3 and 5 are repeats from last year with a little tweaking.

1 / Take a painting class. This is exactly the same as last year. I got so close this year and even put it on my calendar several times, but then I wimped out. Sometimes it’s just so scary to start something you’ve put down for so long.

2 / Ask my mother-in-law for piano lessons. Mother-in-law, this is me asking you for piano lessons. Please? (The back story, so far as I understand it, is that my dear mother-in-law was planning to teach all her children to play piano until her darling son Aaron made it miserable for her and she went on strike. Twenty years ago. She still plays and they still have a piano, so I just want a few refreshers!)

3 / More books, less phone in bed. Michael and I both use our phones as alarm clocks, and we both check our social media and email before bed and when we wake up. So far as I can tell, it’s not really affecting our sleep, but everything everywhere says it’s terrible for you, so the phones are getting left in the kitchen to charge overnight and I’m on the hunt for two cute alarm clocks for our bedside tables.

4 / Spend more time with friends. Michael and I are both feeling so passionately about this one, too. Last year, so many times we would say to each other, we should really make plans with so and so. And then we would forget. So this year, we have a list and we are getting started this month!

5 / Back up my photos and print photo books. I have no excuse other than the thought of this is so miserable and time-consuming that I can’t bring myself to do it. This might end up on next year’s list, too.

6 / Create a better schedule less dictated by travel. I realized in the last few months that my plan of cramming in as much work between trips was making those in-between times unpleasant and the trips themselves more stressful. We already have several trips planned for the first half of 2015, so I’m not sure how this will play out, but I do not want to be a lunatic whenever I’m in Ireland this year!

Last year, I also made some goals for my professional life and I was a little more successful in completing them. For example, I finished Delightful Dublin, started hosting advertisements on the sidebar, filmed more video content, and hosted another lifestyle blogger meetup. Four out of five ain’t bad! So here are a few goals I have for From China Village for this year.

1 / More quality, less quantity. I’m realizing that the blog posts I love the most on blogs I love are longer, more thorough and more thoughtful. I’m toying with the idea of posting less frequently on From China Village but with deeper posts. As I work on the editorial calendar for the next few weeks I’m going to see what might work.

2 / More video. I’m still excited about adding more video to the mix, but I’m thinking possibly travel-related instead of DIY, at least for From China Village. 

3 / More routine, less reactive. I have to admit that the latter half of 2014 felt like I was always reacting or posting content I was writing in other places. I still want to share with you my writing in other places when it’s something I think you’ll enjoy, but I also want to spend more time creating content just for From China Village. 

4 / A makeover, maybe? The last time From China Village got a makeover was three years ago. I still love the design, but it might be time for a little facelift.

5 / Get Delightful Dublin printed. On paper, for you to buy in a bookstore. I love Delightful and I know it would be beautiful to flip through whether you’re actively planning a trip to Dublin or not. I haven’t figured out how to make this happen, but I will! And I’m open to suggestions…

6 / Grow. This year, I would love for From China Village’s audience to grow, and I want to spend more time making that happen.

Last year I also made goals for improving our little corner of the world and we actually did pretty well with those too! I don’t have big plans for our apartment in the coming months, but I am planning on sharing our finished living room and entryway with you very soon. They’ve been 95% finished for months now and this is just the push I need to make it happen! For those who are especially curious how last year’s house resolutions ended up, we did install a motion sensor light at the front, we still don’t have a functioning doorbell, we haven’t landscaped the back garden and the floors are only one step closer to being fixed! See, very far from perfectionism, but a good dose of improvement.

I’d love to hear what resolutions or goals you’re making for the new year, or how it’s going so far?! It’s almost hard to believe 2015 is already underway!

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