Best of 2019

My husband, inspired by Benjamin Franklin, tracks metrics about his life performance. Everyday, he records whether or not he accomplished certain goals, like drinking fewer than x number of alcoholic drinks, exercising, meditating, and much, much more. He’s been tracking all this DAILY for more than a decade.

I’m much less of a tracker. Mostly because proving things to myself doesn’t motivate me. I’m very easy on myself. I need to prove things to others, that’s more my motivation. And as much as I love reading end-of-year best of lists (I really do), I perhaps feel less introspective at the end of the year than others, because I’m uprooting and starting over so often in this Foreign Service life, that my moments of looking back usually come when we’re getting ready to move, which doesn’t usually coincide with the end of a calendar year.

But still, I figured a little look back at the year that was 2019 is a good exercise, if only for posterity’s sake. And possibly for my own.

Best Blog Post

In 2019, The Next Dinner Party had nearly 17,000 different people reading it, which is a good deal more than the previous year. I published 22 blog posts, which is a few less than I published in 2018. Even though more blog posts doesn’t necessarily equal more traffic, my goal for 2020 is 30 blog posts. The post that received the most traffic this year is, same as every year, Great Hikes Around Madrid, a blog post I penned in 2014 that clearly provided something useful for outdoorsy English speakers living in Spain as it’s the biggest single driver of traffic to The Next Dinner Party. Next up is a post I wrote in 2018, which is actually one of my favorite blog posts I’ve ever written called A Glimpse into Jerusalem’s Ultra-Orthodox Neighborhoods. How did blog posts from 2019 fare? Well, the most popular was Our Bright and Eclectic Rabat Apartment, and next up was That Time I Didn’t Notice My Husband Stopped Wearing his Ring, followed close behind by The All-Women’s Carpet Market in Morocco. What do these statistics tell me? I think that readers of this blog like personal stories and also like great photos – two things I’ll ramp up in 2020.

Best Trip(s)

I’m inclined to say the best trip of the year was to Sri Lanka, but since we flew home to Morocco on Jan. 1, 2019, it probably doesn’t count. Adam and I have gotten into the awesome tradition of taking a New Years trip most years but all plans fell through for this year and I’ve been a little depressed about it. I love our house in Algiers and everything, but I’ve been feeling a bit homebound and am ready for a trip. In 2019 we explored a lot of Morocco, showing our visiting family and friends around, and each trip was memorable in its own way – including lots of visits to Marrakech, Chefchaouen, and Tangier. Some of those Moroccan jaunts that stuck with me the most were the ones that weren’t necessarily the most enjoyable: Moroccan Surf and Yoga Camp, and Hiking the Highest Mountain in North Africa, both of which were difficult at times, but great learning experiences (or what I call “retroactively” fun trips). And I loved every minute of the weeks I spent in Paris, staying with my friend Sarah and attending French classes. And by far our best Algerian trip to date was the Desert Party from a Magazine Spread.

Best Dinner Party

We hosted a lovely Valentine’s Dinner party back in our Rabat apartment last year. I made the most romantic dishes I know of: Pumpkin squash ravioli in a brown butter sage and white chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce and it was a really nice night with some good friends and lots of red wine. Ten months later, we hosted a dinner party in our Algiers house, this time it featured pumpkin sage lasagna. Despite a European diplomat inexplicably storming off before dessert, the remaining diplomats had a great time and we ended the night down by our bar, drinking boulevardiers and having a candid talk on romantic relationships and marriage in the foreign service. Delicious, boozy, and intimate: My favorite dinner party combination, after pumpkin and sage. But the best dinner party of the year award has to go to the decadent spread we feasted on in the middle of the Sahara desert at the most perfectly-set table you’ve ever seen for our new Algerian friend’s 40th birthday.

Best Meal

During those two years we lived in Madrid, I liked to bellyache about how one-note Spanish food is — fried this and that and so much meat. But during a trip back to Madrid in 2019, I couldn’t get enough croquettes, tortillas, fresh potato chips and more. Adam and I took our group of friends who gathered to celebrate our friend’s birthday on a guided tapas tour and it was during that tour that I ate shrimp for the first time in 22 years. It was a big moment. Still not sure how I feel about it. But my mouth waters when I think about those sizzling garlic shrimp.

Best Accomplishments

Eek, who put this one here? Honestly, I’m coming off a few days of feeling kind of shitty, watching an abhorrent amount of TV (“You” and “Killing Eve” if you wanna know) and finishing all remaining cheese supplies from fridge. In 2019, I had no real writing accomplishments. When I asked early last year if I had to be locked in a glass cage in order to write, looks like the answer was “Yep, that’s the only way!” But if Joe was able to transport his transparent murder/motivational writing cage from New York to LA with as much ease as depicted in Season 2 of “You,” then perhaps it is something I could ship through the Diplomatic Pouch here to Algiers? Le sigh. I had no professional accomplishments of any kind, really. I didn’t work in Morocco, and although I spent a few months exploring the exciting possibility of starting a business selling beautiful Moroccan home goods, the realities of shipping from Algeria ultimately confounded me and I gave up on the idea.

Oh, here’s one thing: I can now say I speak a little French and understand a great deal more. I was hesitant to put this as an accomplishment because I feel like I didn’t try hard enough, especially when I compare my lackadaisical language-learning approach to the gusto with which my husband learns languages. But I guess another way to look at is when I began 2019, I couldn’t communicate in French and now I can. So that’s something. (Also, I’ve really enjoyed learning French, much more so than any other language I’ve tried).

An ungenerous person could perhaps be tempted to call 2019 a year of languish. A slightly more generous person might chime in and be like “But wait, I had a bunch of great travel experiences, spent time (albeit way too little time) with family and friends back in the U.S., and made friends and memories in Morocco, not to mention I set up a pretty great-looking house in Algiers that brings Adam and I joy on the daily.”

Looking forward, well, I’ll be starting another pants-wearing job at the embassy. It’s totally in my wheelhouse and promises to be quite fulfilling. More on that soon. Also, I’ll be teaching a weekly North American literature class to young Algerians and I’m really looking forward to that. (We’ll be reading my faves: Alice Munro, Willa Cather, Lorrie Moore). And I’ll get back into the novel mindset and send my book out to a dozen agents by the end of this month.

Hope everyone had a 2019 for the ages, and if you didn’t, don’t despair. 2020 has a better ring to it anyway.


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