View in St Lucia - with unicorn float - ugly duckling house

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Instead of the traditional Thanksgiving with family, I spent this year’s break in Saint Lucia for a friend’s vow renewal. In one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, I found myself reflecting on a year to be very thankful for.

VERY personal post alert! If you like personal life updates, this is delving into things that I haven’t opened up about before. Those of you who only like the DIY stuff, that will be in the next post.

Hi, friends! I hope you enjoyed our little break over the Thanksgiving holiday. I spent mine in a rather unconventional way: watching two of my closest friends renew their vows of love and commitment to each other in St. Lucia. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my lifetime:

View in Saint Lucia - with unicorn float - ugly duckling house

I’ve been planning on taking this trip for little over a year. When I was first invited, the premise was that my friends were renting a villa in St. Lucia for renewing vows on their five-year anniversary. They had gotten married in a friend’s living room with only a handful of witnesses, so they decided the five-year mark was an opportunity to have a ceremony with immediate family, their closest friends, and enjoy a honeymoon all at once.

vow renewal 2017 - St Lucia

vow renewal St Lucia - ugly duckling house - petals and view

Since they would be covering most of the expenses while we were there, it would actually be much more manageable than I would have otherwise been able to afford (and so very generous of them, too — but how awesome is an alternative wedding like that, to instead spend their budget on something like this instead of a single day??). I was beyond excited, informed my family of my plans (sorry/not sorry?), and began setting money aside for the plane ticket.

The trip did not disappoint for even a single second.

I took hundreds of photos and video, so all of that will likely take a considerable period of time before everything is edited and ready to recap/upload. Unlike the “relaxing” beach vacation I am typically drawn to, this one was nonstop fun. We rented a catamaran, went snorkeling/scuba diving, rode ATVs down to black sand beaches (wait until you see me do donuts on a beach, ha!), hit up an organic pineapple farm (which has likely ruined pineapple for me forever… it dries out so much in transit and I had no idea), enjoyed fresh caught fish, and soaked up the sun like it would expire by the time I came home.

organic pineapple farm - St Lucia

And that view. That pool.

St Lucia view from villa

The entire villa was open air, so it was, essentially, the most elaborate form of glamping I’ve ever witnessed. If I had to complain of anything at all (or just make a funny observation?), it’s that there was zero privacy. People can and will hear you taking a shower, snoring in your sleep, or any of the 283 other things you might be self-conscious about when there is nothing but fresh air, a drastic change to your American diet, and a few strategically-placed slats of wood to separate you from your buddy in the next room. A small price to pay, really.

St Lucia - wood slats - villa interior

But back to the main subject of this post: giving thanks. We had Thanksgiving dinner that Thursday evening, replacing the traditional meal with fresh-caught tuna and local produce prepared by the house manager (we enjoyed her amazing cooking throughout the week — she was incredible). We went around the table, each expressing the many blessings we were thankful for; the loved ones we missed and wished were there to enjoy it with us; events and changes that we were either grateful to have embraced or ready to be rid of. If anything, being in a place like this, it was even more apparent to me of the year I’ve had and how distant a year ago can be.

Thanksgiving fish dinner

A Year of Good Fortune

I am thankful for my work/blog/career path.

Blogging and freelance is such a bubble. It makes sense as a blogger to talk about blogging on my blog. But in person, I try to be tight-lipped about it, because it’s clumsy. For many, blogging is not a proper job; to express it as a legitimate occupation can lead to shared glances, mocked interest, or even air quotes. This perception has sometimes been from family, or close friends, or even significant others. As you might imagine, that can suck and lead to self-doubt. I get asked by strangers or near-strangers to get them things for free or to advertise their businesses for free. What’s supposed to be the quick intro at social events (“What do you do?” “Engineer, you?” “Blogger.”) often devolves into the same 20-question spiel of how you make money, no exactly how, no I mean where do the paychecks come from??? conversation that makes me both squirm and feel like an ass because there goes Sarah talking about blogging again.

I get where that skepticism comes from. I’ve thought it myself in periods of self-doubt. My point is, outward judgment — of any kind, so this is not exclusive to blogging — can eat at you unless you build up a thick skin for it. This year, I think I’ve done a much better job of not apologizing for what makes me happy.

Every job has a negative aspect or two. To me, this is just the price of an otherwise amazing, awesome job that I consider myself very, very lucky to have. With fellow bloggers or my friends/family who support what I do, it’s so much fun to talk about something I feel so passionate about (it shows, obnoxiously so), celebrate the latest sponsor under contract or another business goal achieved. I worked at something that actually became something. That’s so damn cool.

I am incredibly grateful for that support, those opportunities, and that I do something that has allowed me to meet people all over the country who feel just as passionate about what they do. I love hearing from readers who used one of my tutorials to transform their homes. Or meet a reader in person. Or brainstorm over the latest project. Or just plain create something. For all of those things, I’ll gladly take on the arrogant prick who walks away mid-sentence because I said I was a blogger. This year was a good year for me. I will continue working hard, and especially because I love what I do.

I am thankful for my family, friends, and my support system.

For several years at the beginning of this blog, I didn’t do much dating. I was in an exhausting push to get myself through grad school — not much time between a full-time job, full-time school hours, building the blog into a business, etc. In 2016, I found myself very suddenly head over heels for a guy who I thought was smart, kind, and funny. My friends and family met him and were happy for me, but it also moved way too fast. I ignored red flags and my overall uneasiness (I was frequently nauseated but couldn’t figure out why). He ended things just as suddenly as it began several months later, and I was very hurt over the feelings of betrayal and the deliberate cruelty in which he seemed to speak and act. Breakups are hard in general, and I’m mindful of how one-sided recapping any details would be… so suffice it to say that a good chunk of 2016 was pretty rough.

Those of you who read my blog during that time already know the above, but what you might not know is that the stress of it all significantly impacted my health at the time. The nausea I’d been feeling for months intensified. At its zenith, I had a hard time keeping food down. I was also drinking way too much and losing weight — which was kind of confusing. As a woman, being showered with those kinds of “You look great! Wow, you’ve lost so much weight!” compliments and knowing that they weren’t from positive circumstances had an odd effect (and maybe added more self-doubt?).

I had never experienced stress to this level, but knew without it subsiding on its own, I needed to find help. That’s when I discovered the Talkspace app and subscribed. Over the next month I matched with a licensed expert and had ample opportunity to discuss things with an unbiased point of view. The anxiety I was experiencing began to lessen, and I got back into healthier habits. I ran with my running group more frequently to channel the extra stress. I started meditating every morning to clarify my thoughts (I was very skeptical, but it worked extremely well — the Headspace app is very good too, just FYI!). Between the bad habits and the good, I dropped about 20 pounds. Some of it, I kept off through the exercise; some, I gained back from more normal eating. On my 5’2″ frame, the change was pretty noticeable.

losing weight 2016
November 2016

I don’t know why it was such a surprise, but my closest friends — and several of the mutual ones between this guy and I — showed me such incredible kindness during this period that I am still in awe of it. The couple I mentioned with their vow renewal? They sat and listened whenever I needed. They cooked when I had a lack of appetite. The other friends who were on this Saint Lucia trip? They invited me out, kept me active, and were just plain there. They were also the first to make silly, petty observations that made me chuckle (“never trust a guy who’s that bad at pool,” that sort of thing… it strangely meant a lot). Countless other friends and family boosted me up. Went running with me. Met me for a drink. Dealt with my overall assholishness at times (and allowed me to apologize). Hosted me for a visit. Made me laugh. I don’t know how I managed to gain such amazing people around me, but grateful for their love and support is an understatement. Even now, I feel humbled and a little teary-eyed.

I am thankful to fall in love again.

For a while, I felt a little raw and stung. I tried jumping back into dating, but I wasn’t at all able. Those first few dates during that time weren’t even awful or funny or interesting — they just were. Despite wanting to move on, my sense of detachment told me that I couldn’t/shouldn’t force it. I didn’t want to use anyone to help me get over someone else; that would make me a terrible person if I had.

It didn’t really seem all that strange to revert back to solo life — I was plenty used to it. I dove into work, and it wound up better than ever. There was plenty of entrepreneurial drive to spare — with the added layer of just wanting to focus on something else — and it felt good to see physical results from my efforts (especially when the emotional ones were much harder to measure). I felt renewed creativity and wrote a lot, though plenty of it was about those emotional pitfalls (these were for my own use and not published on the blog).

yard work getting started backyard makeover

Eventually, I’d packaged up the mental gymnastics of the past year to make room for someone else. I was finally excited about the idea of dating and love again. Christmas was going to be coming soon enough, and I gave online dating another shot. I went out for a drink with a random dude whose profile had a cute beard and nice eyes. I felt comfortable enough to make him laugh, and he genuinely laughed — a good sign, and something that felt familiar.

We were about halfway through a drink before he asked me to his company’s Christmas party. He joked about how much fun of him his coworkers made of him being dateless the previous year. I found it both charming, silly, and surprising; he asked so suddenly, I almost thought he meant he wanted me to go later that night, like he was on his way to it and meeting me for a drink just before. That wasn’t the case of course, but the thought of it made me laugh hysterically. We went out on a few actual dates before the party, but it was fun.

Over the next few months, K’s quick wit, patience, and ability to make me laugh melted my bruised feelings. I fell in love again. Charlie gained a new best friend (I think it’s now tied between K and my dad). His dog Stella, whom you’ve already met, gave her own seal of approval of us immediately (her reactions to Charlie when they haven’t seen each other in a while are hilarious — as though she doesn’t want to admit that she missed her, so she gets almost imperceptible nods in her direction, while Charlie is instantly happier to have Stella around).

everyone is figuring out how to sit comfortably on the new couch

I became less active for a while, which gained back more weight (new relationships = couch potato). We’ve become more active again as of late, and I am very happy to have met K. If 2016 taught me humility and that I have more space in my heart than I realized, 2017 showed me how to fill it again.

I am thankful for so much more.

Many of you guys have sent emails, left comments, and messaged on other social channels in the last year. When I spoke of 2016’s hardships before, a lot of you showed me an incredible about of support; for that, I am very, very grateful you took the time to do it. And even though I say it every year, I just want you to know how much I appreciate that you read along regardless of the reason — for the personal posts, or just the DIY tutorials, or maybe if you’re a new reader who is learning how to adult and cook at home more (like I have recently!). My appreciation for you guys sticking around never stops being true. Every time I hear about one of your projects or when you give input, I just love it. K knows when it happens, too — he says he hears it in my voice.

I am thankful my friends and family were happy for me to get away. And again when they gave me crap for missing Thanksgiving (guilt is love, at least in my Catholic family!). I gained a new appreciation for my parents’ willingness to travel with me as a kid; it made me realize what a missed opportunity this would have been.

I’ve found myself very grateful for a lot of things this year. When possible, I’ve tried to tell others the same. But staring the pitons in St. Lucia and counting my blessings all over again, it just made sense.

Sunset in Saint Lucia - ugly duckling house

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving (Canada, this is a month late, but same). I realize 2017 has been rough for many, but I hope you also had things to still be thankful for. I’ll be posting a BIG DIY update to the dining room this week, so check back in soon!

closeup of new wine rack

What were you thankful for this year?

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  1. Hugs! This was so raw and beautiful! I came across your site for the awesome DIYs and admire your bravery in projects and in life! Wishing you the best Christmas ever! Ps I need to try out your families Christmas cookie recipe.

  2. I’m glad this year has made you so much happier and content. May the next year be even better!

  3. Ah, Sarah, life is such an adventure! Peaks and valleys, and everything in-between, yes? I’m skilled at ignoring red flags, too! And, yep, know that weight loss consequence. Have not yet learned how to keep it off lol
    I sought counseling once only to have the counselor say I was handling things appropriately and check back in in 2 weeks. That’s all I needed to hear … I was handling it well and yes, the other had been a jerk. :)

    Being a smidgen older than you (63 in Feb), I again say, life is an adventure. What we do with the peaks, valleys, and in-between is up to us and what we tell ourselves about them.

    So I say to you, you’ve been handling all of it well, keep it up!

    1. Thanks, Guerrina! And I had kind of a similar experience talking with someone. I expected them to be somewhat neutral and/or only focus on things to move on (which she did help with), but what was most surprising was her confirmation that the other person had been a jerk (and a few other phrases, which I learned from speaking to a few other friends was a bit unusual for her to react that way, ha!). But thanks so much for a totally relatable comment (as usual!).

  4. Thank you for your honestly, Sarah. It’s one of the many reasons that I read this blog. I love the projects and the renovation stories, too, but it’s because it’s in your voice that it’s so appealing. I had a breakup in late 2016, too, of a more than five-year relationship that I thought was going to be for the rest of my life. Boy, does it do a number on your health and self-esteem. I started weight-training not long after as I’d feared that I’d sink too far into the dark well if I didn’t do something to get myself out and more active. Bone-deep tired at least helps with the anxiety and insomnia. I mean, drowning in cheesecake and bourbon sounded good at the time, but I knew that it wasn’t a good long-term plan.
    I’m so glad that it’s better. I’m glad that you have some new loves (I mean who couldn’t find Stella adorable. I’m sure that she and Charlie are a hysterical duo). But it’s OK to just be you, too. (My ex wanted to reconcile after a year, and I’d missed him a lot. So, we are working on it. I’m hopeful, but I’m being realistic, too. Whatever will be, will be.)

    1. I think that cheesecake and bourbon still sounds like a pretty solid short-term plan. Kudos to you for channeling that energy into something productive like weight training. I hope that reconciliation or no, either way it brings out the best for YOU. I can hear the pain in your comment, so for you to get to a place of forgiveness like that is really admirable and shows a lot of strength. I’m still working on forgiveness myself. I think I’m almost there; but then again, I’m also hoping he finds a giant hive of bees in his drywall. Potato, potah-to. ;)

  5. I lurk around here more than anything but I enjoy your tone, humour and adventurousness. I appreciate when bloggers who tend to be mostly-professional open up about the hard stuff. Thank you for that. Happy Holidays, and here’s to a stellar 2018!!

    1. Thank you, Whitney! Though I would argue I hardly fall into the “mostly-professional” with the way I throw around salty words, tweet after drinking, and tendency to break my toe on the air compressor. But I’ll gladly take the compliment as an indication that I can fake it better than I assumed. ;) ha! Hope you have a wonderful 2018 as well!

  6. St Lucia looks heavenly. I’m glad you are happy and have found love again.

    I started Blue Apron a month ago and LOVE it. I’m single and love that dinner is planned out for me. I just grab the ingredients, a glass of wine start prepping and cooking. The food has been wonderful. I have not been disappointed in any of it.


    1. Awesome! I haven’t yet. I’m working on doing some solid meal planning for each week, though!

  7. I absolutely love this post! I came across your blog just searching around for others who were into home DIY projects and have loved your raw and real personality you show through your words! My boyfriend and I flip houses in central Arkansas and it can be overwhelming in more ways than one, without a doubt. But, it’s so nice to see someone else that shows life going on between the saw dust, paint coated clothes and just trying to survive life outside of that! St. Lucia looks GORGEOUS and has always been on my bucket list. What an amazing way to spend Thanksgiving! So glad you were able to pause and seek some gratitude for what seems like an extra special year for you!

    1. Aw thank you! When I try your URL I don’t get results (I assumed the .com was your blog, I’d love to check it out). I think you’re going to like the post on Friday then, since I want help with finding a name for the next reno project he and I will do together!

      1. Oh yes!! I think for some reason it didn’t work because it was missing the https to it! Maybe it’ll work right this time! :)

      2. Also, how fun to name the projects!! We actually end up just calling ours by their street names. Real creative right? HAHA!

  8. Hi Sarah,
    I originally came to your site from DIY Diva with the stairway challenge and have stayed for the same reason I continue to follow Kit – for your genuine voices. There are so many blogs around where everything always seems so perfect and unachievable but you two ladies are showing the challenges of real life and how you deal with it. I find that inspiring!
    So, keep up the good work in life and DIY. I look forward to many more laughs and handy tips from you as I follow your story.
    Cheers, Karen

  9. Sarah, I met you smack in the middle of 2016 and I don’t know if you remember, but we talked a little about what you were going through at the time. And I am SO HAPPY to read that you are in love!! Congratulations girl! Sounds like K just might be the one. Fingers crossed! You deserve so much love and happiness! Happy New Year!