29 // the state of the union address

This may be the quickest I’ve ever written one of these “state of the union addresses”. I’ve been writing them for, what, like 10 years now?! Perhaps, that in and of itself is a sign of this powerful place of confidence with which I have been finding my words lately. I have had a knowing that this birthday of mine and the chapter I’m stepping into would be very simple to write about, despite how complex it’s felt.

Every year, I write an essay about how I feel about my birthday and another year lived. It’s a tradition that marks the continued online documentation of who I am becoming along this life I’m traveling through. Mostly it’s a rambling, but I love looking back and giggling to myself. Here is what I wrote this year. I hope you like it.


recap: where I’ve been during “28”

Last September, I welcomed in a new year beginning the day in Bangkok, Thailand, and ending it as an eco-resort in Luang Prabang, Laos. Eating my favourite spring rolls with Xeng Lee, LyLy, George, and Luke around a long wooden table under the twinkly lights at Saibaidee Restaurant felt like the Universe giving me a massive sign. Like it was saying, “You’re here now. It’s okay.”

It was my fourth birthday in a row spent in Luang Prabang. A weird sort of unplanned magic. I like to think it was no coincidence.

After the hellish time that was my life in China, I felt like I could breathe again in Laos. The air felt lighter despite the huge undertaking ahead of me. What was this undertaking, you ask? I was simultaneously supporting Luke’s endeavour to start his own business and my own to no longer work for The Nanjinger magazine, but to take all I’d learned in Vietnam and become a full-time freelancer.

I don’t think Luke would mind me saying that the weight of those very scary and big-dream-chasing missions often resulted in conversations between the two of us at dinner wondering if we could actually make any of it happen. Were we crazy? It’s also a very interesting dynamic between two people when you live, work, and eat with the same person 90% of every day. You either crack under the weight of that pressure, or you thrive. By some alchemy {read: lots of hard work and encouragement}, it all turned out for each of us. I was earning money regularly from writing, something I’d been wanting for a while, and I began working for the U.S. Embassy on the side a few hours a week, which utilized both my acquired degrees and my passions. And, the cherry on top was Luke got Orange Robe Tours up and running {now ranked #3 on Tripadvisor!}.

October came, and with it a trip to Malaysia. Then, November came, and with it a return to New Zealand to see my people. December hit and i was back in England with Luke and off to Prague and Berlin for Christmas markets and brand partnerships. Those trips were highlights. Freezing in the only winter jacket I had with me, but blissful to be doing so many fun things because my job allowed me that freedom. In February, I was in Hong Kong and Vietnam. In March I had a press trip to Luang Namtha up in northern Laos, and in April I was in Sri Lanka with elephants in the wild before celebrating Songkran in Bangkok.

May came so quickly, I could barely catch my breath, and with it, the decision for both Luke and I to leave Laos. Luke hired a local manager to run operations on the ground, because truly grassroots businesses set themselves up to be run by the locals that should be benefiting from them, and we have each been doing our respective parts from afar. We also gave up our living space to said manager. Our leaving Laos was not out of a lack of love. We left because we knew it was the right time to leave. Luke had done what he set out to do and so had I and life in Laos was as it always is: magic. We’d soaked up opportunities and set up a give-back business. It was time. There was a deep knowing from both of us that, while we didn’t want to leave, it was simply and truly time. I’m sure we will both be back. Laos always comes to me like a gift when I am in need of restoration and clearer thinking. I would love to return someday when it feels right to be there again.

From Laos, I flew to England to be at my sister’s wedding. I stayed in England until June when I set out on a beautiful summer adventure that blended slower travels with whirlwind city sightseeing. I went from Portugal to Spain, Morocco, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. 95 days. Some places I spent a week or two. In others, I dropped into capital cities for a couple of days {or just one in the case of Bucharest}.

I then landed back in England, took a shower, and cracked down on work and laundry. I have 2 articles due in a number of days, which is around the same time I fly out to New Zealand. I’m soaking up visits with Luke’s Nan and Grandad, dinners with Becky and Billy, and eating a lot of cake.

At this very moment, however, I have strapped up my hiking boots and am being taken on a birthday adventure. I have no clue where I’m being taken. I was only told to pack my hiking gear and a fresh change of clothes. It’s kind of a great metaphor for how I’m entering my new year: stepping into the adventure a little blindly but blissfully.


who i am stepping into “29”

I did something the other day that I kind of couldn’t believe I did. I was sort of hovering above my body watching myself call someone out on their bullshit. Observing myself do this, an inner voice was nodding and smiling. “There she is.”

In that moment, I had seemingly shed the quiet and calm, polite and poised skin I had been wearing. Exposed instead was a boundary-setting, bold and brazen self. One that stood in reverence of her deepest feelings. One who felt a magical clicking into place. Like, yes, we’re here.

In my last spin around the sun, I have gotten to intimately know many versions of myself. Strong and emotionally armored Tara; remnants of the woman I had to become to deal with everything I was going through at the end of 2017. Confident and self-trusting Tara; the woman who fearlessly pursues her passions and believes so fully in how wildly capable she is that she tries her hand at everything she feels drawn to try. Shameless and vulnerable Tara; a woman who expresses her feelings even and especially when she scared. And Tara who is radically responsible for her happiness, her success, her shortcomings, and her life as a whole.

It would be easy to blame visa obstacles, time differences, and the complexities of the emotional human experience for any tinges of unhappiness that presented themselves as hurdles for me to clobber over this year. But, the truth is, every disappointment has been met with a fierce sense of responsibility and equal confidence.

I am wholly responsible for my own happiness. It’s that responsibility which has me feeling outrageous freedom lately. Knowing that how I allow people to treat me, how I set my boundaries, and how I spend my time will manifest into the quality of life I live empowers me.

If 27 was the year of opportunities and fearlessness that I claimed it to be, 28 was the year I cracked wide open. the year i upped a gear. the year i took action and responsibility for those actions.

I am now a fuller version of myself thanks to the many “mes” that I have witnessed this year. I owe them a debt of gratitude, because they have all led me to where and who I am now: a sort of hybrid of every woman I’ve been and every experience I’ve had. I am vulnerable, unafraid, confident, and trusting once more. I feel like I’ve finally, after that weird plateau 27th year and the hard work of the equal-parts-exciting-and-exhausting 28th year, arrived in a place where I have fewer anxieties about where and who I should be.

I have things far from figured out. I have visa obstacles that make me cry over my computer screen late at night before I eventually remember it will be what it is. I have a storage unit in America still loaded with home goods and Rubbermaids of clothes waiting on me to come back to a life I know in heart I am not returning to. I am still trying to master new things and give myself grace when I am not an instant expert.

But, I am confident that i’ve got this all handled.

Because in spite of not having it all figured out in exact detail, I have been able to cultivate a life that feels as good as life should always feel. I love writing for work. I love traveling. I love being able to delegate my own time. And, I feel loved and supported. All of those things feel good.

This summer, and this 28th year that has come and now gone, has reminded me of what life can feel like when I let myself remain open to the good stuff. That the things I desire most are available to me if I let myself accept them. The responsibility of acceptance falls on me and, in this new 29th year, I am carrying that in my heart.

WHAT’S NEXT for me

Writing more. I’m working to finish my book of essays, while simultaneously writing articles for print and digital publications as I continue to work as a freelance writer. A lot of words are finding their way to paper and I hope that stays ongoing.

Blogging more + website updates. I have so many blog posts drafted from this summer. 53 if we’re counting. And, I still need to finish the updated posts from South America and New Zealand. I am making a promise to myself that this is the year I will hunker down and finish all of this. I also have a lot of updates to this little corner of the internet that I’d like to make the time for.

Traveling even more thoroughly, with a new base to move to and from {and hopefully fill with plants and books}. Mountain hikes. Ocean swims. I’m ready for fewer cities and more escapades in nature. All the big adventures I had postponed are going ahead, but I’m also keen for park naps so I can add to my series of photos of me sitting in grass {pictured above}.

Continued learning. After my trip to Morocco proved my French has fallen subpar {to put it nicely}, I am brushing up the romance language. On my summer trip, I started learning German . I’ve also started a photography course that’s long overdue. I decided, with Audrey on my mind, that it’s time I took up guitar. After all, it only makes sense that if someone loves you enough to get you a guitar, you honour that by learning how to do it properly, aye?

More U.S. Embassy work. Not that I needed another thing to do, but my work with the U.S. Embassy in Laos felt remarkably connected to my strengths and my passions. That’s why, when they contacted me to do a bit of the work I had been doing while I lived there with Luke from afar, I just…couldn’t say no. This kind of work paired with my background with NGOs has made me feel truly empowered to continue working with communities at the most grassroots level possible to create positive change lead by locals. It also makes me feel better about my loan for my M.A. {double lol}.

Health + fitness. I want to lace up my running shoes again and continue to work towards being the healthiest version of myself possible. I’d also like to run another marathon before my next birthday.

Loving deeply. Not new, but worth noting that group chats and golden hour beers are going nowhere.

New Zealand. Nature and my people.

For now though, I’ve off to go have this birthday adventure I know nothing about.

xx T