This way to adventure!

Hi there!

I’m Emily. I’m a writer living an unexpected expat life fueled by coffee and adventure. Home is where my art is.

(Currently: Brussels)

So this is 36.

So this is 36.

I turned 36 last week. It’s taken a few days, but I think I’ve finally adjusted to the fact that I’m closer to 40 than to 30 these days. Joe keeps saying that “old” is a state of mind and I have to admit that I’m maybe a bit more willing to believe him than I used to. I swear he came back into my life to keep me young — the wrinkle lines carving themselves most deeply into my face these days are the ones that form around my eyes when I’m laughing. (I still wouldn’t mind a little botox on that forehead stress furrow though…).

There’s something about my birthday that seems to wrap up the pensive reflection I find myself starting on New Year’s every year. It’s as if I have my own personal Lent or Elul — taking stock of where I’ve been in the past year and where I’d like to go as I begin anew.

Deep soul searching’s nothing new to me. I had already done quite a bit of it prior to reconnecting with Joe, and my tendency to get introspective continued when I asked myself if I could be happy as his trailing spouse. To do so would mean giving up the illusion that I was in control of my life (hard to do when you go where you’re needed, even if it’s by rank-ordered preference). It would also mean that my career path would be non-traditional (linear trajectories are hard, but not impossible, for EFMs). And finally, it would mean that I would have to trust that I’d be getting more than what I’d be giving up (and some days that’s much, much easier to believe than others).

Compared to the reflections and questions of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, things just didn’t seem so big in the grand scheme as I started my introspection this year — I had already decided that I’d step away from my advertising career, I had already chosen Joe, I had already promised to stay in it for both the adventures and misadventures. I had made the really big decisions. And, I was sorta maybe kinda feeling like I was starting to get the hang of being a wife and a trailing spouse.

I’m not entirely sure how the word “Intentional” popped into my head in late December/early January but it soon became clear that it would be my guiding word for the year. It also became clear on the night before my birthday, that I was going to write a list of 36 things that I’d like to tick off by the time my birthday rolls around next year. The list wrote itself quickly and I’m pretty pleased with the mix of items — some are silly and some are serious, some are one-time to-dos and some are about building habits, some are for my own benefit and some are so that I can help others. All are meant to stretch me and help me live an intentional year.

I’m sharing them here for a few reasons:
1. Goals written down are more likely to be achieved. (It’s science.)
2. I do better with accountability. (That’s probably science too.)
3. Maybe you’ll join me in making your own intention list. (If you do, let me know somehow!)

I’m thinking I’ll share a mid-year check in come August but that’s about a gazillion years from now, so we’ll see…


  1. Pitch 5 writing opportunities. In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks a lot about pitching and rejection. It’s been a hot second since I’ve submitted anything and it’s time I get back into the practice. (Eek!)

  2. Take a creative class or workshop. See above. I’d like to get better at my craft.

  3. Go on a solo trip to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. I took my first real solo trip when I was 30. I spent 10 days in Spain getting lost while trying to find myself. Now that I’m reasonably sure I like who I am, I’d love to spend some time alone flexing my adventure muscles without Joe nearby to coach me on (or read the departures board while we’re walking under it at warp speed.)

  4. Take a photo booth pic in Paris, a la Amélie. This one’s been on the list since college and I never would have guessed then that I’d actually be close enough to make it happen.

  5. Do a full weekend digital detox. ‘Nough said.

  6. Read 18 books. Stephen King also says that one must read to be a good writer. (I do better with accountability.)

  7. Create a habit in 30 days. I haven’t decided what, exactly, it’ll be but I’m thinking morning pages.

  8. Write and send twelve handwritten letters. A lost art form. Let me know if you need some snail mail love.

  9. Find a new recipe to try (and follow!) 1x/month. I’m super good at not following recipes. Maybe I’ll learn something new.

  10. Ride the scooter from Point A to Point B. I haven’t driven a 2-wheeled vehicle since earning my motorcycle endorsement last April. It’s time to change that.

  11. Run a 5k race. This one’s a stretch goal. I ran a marathon in 2009 and then had a lumbar fusion in 2012 — running may be out of reach, but my physical therapist thinks it might be within the realm of possibilities. Plus, I do love a finisher’s shirt.

  12. Learn 100 new French words. Yes, swears count.

  13. Learn 25 Dutch words. It seems only fair.

  14. Hike in the Grand Canyon. #homeleave goals.

  15. Earn a Junior Ranger badge. The National Park Service is brilliant and graciously lets folks of all ages earn a badge. #homeleave goals.

  16. Get 5 new stamps in my National Parks passport. There’s still a whole lot of America to see before I die. Plus, #homeleave goals.

  17. Have professional photos taken. Joe’s a great photographer, but it’d be nice to have some formal portraits done before my crow’s feet get any deeper.

  18. Do a 30 day plank challenge. I’m pretty sure my physio would approve.

  19. Complete 36 volunteer hours. This used to be an easy one for me, but it’ll take a bit more effort to volunteer in Belgium given that I’m not fluent in French or Dutch.

  20. Write a manifesto. Subject TBD.

  21. Go to a poetry reading (bonus points if I write and read!). It’s been a while…

  22. Go to at least one museum or gallery a month. This should be pretty easy, but I want to make sure I’m always feeding my mind.

  23. Host a midsummer’s night party. You can take the girl out of Shakespeare class…

  24. Do a 30 day yoga challenge. I’ve never made it to my mat more than 3 days in a row. Breath work is so, so good for me.

  25. Do/Complete The Artist’s Way. Has been on the list for years. This is the one where it’s going to happen.

  26. Take a cooking class. I need to learn how to plate well!

  27. Tidy my closet (KonMari style) once and for all! I’ve been after a capsule wardrobe for 7 years now. It’s time!

  28. Have high tea somewhere swanky. I mean, London’s only a quick train ride away…

  29. Go a week without makeup. I’ve been wearing less here in Europe but I wonder what it would be like to really live in my skin for a week (in public. gasp.)

  30. Re-cert in CPR & 1st Aid. How embarrassing is it that it’s been more than 5 years?

  31. Celebrate a holiday the way locals do. As if I need another excuse for an adventure, right?

  32. Go camping. I haven’t camped since H.S. but I have a really sweet new sleeping bag!

  33. Visit somewhere meaningful to my ancestors. This’ll require some homework first.

  34. Walk a section of a pilgrimage trail. More homework needed.

  35. Try one new thing a month that takes me out of my comfort zone. I think this is what it means to truly live.

  36. Participate in all 4 art exchanges. I’ve been doing an art exchange with other women for a year now and I’m excited to keep getting paired up and see where my process takes me.


What’s on your list this year?

City Break: Celebrating in Vilnius

City Break: Celebrating in Vilnius

Report Card: 6 months

Report Card: 6 months