From the start of 2019, I chose “connection” as my theme for the year. Connection is the heart of what makes us human, and yet, I so often resist it, setting it aside for comfort, introversion, and an attempt to protect myself through isolation. I wanted to push myself beyond that and to practice vulnerability. Indeed, I had a year absolutely filled with connection, adventure, and a wonderful sense of abundance.
I have so many ways of documenting my life– photographing, blogging, instagram stories, painting, and new this year, 360° photos too. But one of my favorites these past couple years (see 2018 and 2017) has been compiling these one-second videos throughout the entire year. See my 2019 recapped in 365 seconds below!
This may have been most most travel-filled year yet. I purchased a National Parks Pass in June and put it to good use, visiting six national parks in six months: Kenai Fjords & Denali in Alaska; Haleakala in Hawaii; and Pinnacles, Lassen Volcanic, and Redwood in California. I also enjoyed staycations in Mendocino, Napa, and Big Sur.
Many thanks to my wonderful travel partners throughout the year: my mom, Cassie, Talya, Amy, Whitney, and of course Alex, who was with me for half of the trips this year.
I kicked off the year by throwing myself a very elaborate birthday party in January, involving velvet, afternoon tea, embroidery, and a historic Victorian home in Oakland. It was even published on Ruffled.
I continued to meet once a month with the Office of Accountability to set personal and professional goals. These ladies are my core community, and I am so grateful for their support. We also had a fun excursion when we took our June meeting out to Pinnacles National Park, where we hiked in 96° heat, camped overnight, and all came home in one piece despite a close encounter with a baby rattlesnake.
In February, I read a life-changing book, The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (more on this when I post my book reviews of 2019!), which turned out to be a practical and inspirational handbook on how we can gather better. I immediately put it to good use when a few of us from the Accountability group started Amber Collective, a community for Asian American creative women in San Francisco. We organized three events before wedding season overtook us, but I am so proud of what we started and hope to see us resume in 2020!
I also continued to meet regularly with my Paint Club, painting in different spots around East Bay, and with my Lean In Group, which had a retreat in Pacifica at the beginning of December.
I feel so rooted in these communities, it’s hard to believe that I didn’t have any of these groups until the last couple of years. I’m grateful to have found these amazing people and hope to continue building and deepening these relationships even as our lives and gatherings continue to shift in the years to come.
And finally, because there’s no way to actually capture the depth and wonder of a year no matter how many ways you document it, here are ten magical moments from the year that I hope to hang on to just in my memory:
1. Midnight in Mendocino. I decided to close out 2018 and open 2019 with a last-minute solo road trip to Mendocino. At midnight, I was in my cabin off the grid (no electricity, and the bathroom was a surprisingly clean and pleasant outhouse) with a fire burning in the wood stove. I climbed up to the loft and looked up through the skylight, straight to the stars above. It was silent, beautiful, and perfect.
2. Amber Collective. When we first decided to start Amber Collective, it was a vague idea in Do-Hee’s head to do something for Asian American creative women. Through seven weeks of coordination while the five of us were traveling all over the world, we worked our magic (we really know how to get stuff done), and we set our best intentions forth for the first gathering. We exceeded our own expectations when we had 82 people in attendance. I just remember looking out across the crowd, so incredibly proud of what we had put together and inspired by everyone on our panel.
3. Epic Iceland. Every day in Iceland is beautiful and magical, but day three was spectacular. Already halfway into the day, we were supposed to visit a glacier, Svinafellsjökull, but the road was unpaved, so we very cautiously drove down it at a slow walking pace in our compact car. But as soon as we crested the hill from the parking lot and saw the glacier, Cassie started crying and said it was the most beautiful thing she ever saw.
After making our way back out, we visited Diamond Beach, so named because chunks of glacier sparkle along the black sand. Surreal. Then the skies turned amazing. We made our way to a different viewpoint of the glacier lagoon as everything aligned perfectly for Jesus light to be streaming through the clouds over the glaciers
And just as I was saying, “this day has been pretty amazing. The only thing that would make it better is if we saw some horses that we could actually stop by…”
I spotted up in the distance, a whole herd of horses… right by the side of the road… across from a parking lot!!! We pet the horses, fed them dried apples, decided this was the best day ever, and our trip was now complete. And then we proceeded to have three more incredible days in Iceland.
4. Swiss Snow Globe. After Iceland, I flew to Switzerland and met my friend Talya, who lives in Berlin, in the Swiss Alps. I was imagining April to mean springtime, cows with giant cowbells, and verdant mountains. But actually, it was still winter in the Alps. All the better, because when we awoke the second day in our chalet, flakes of snow were falling from the sky, the pine trees were all beautifully dusted in snow, and it was as though we had awoken in a snow globe. I was absolutely delighted by the whole scene. Also delightful: the honor system fridge from which I bought a chunk of cheese. And the incredibly cold, incredibly delicious water from the public fountain.
5. Cerf Club. It’s so rare in this city to find a restaurant that is not only beautiful, with wonderful ambiance and delicious food, but is also not too expensive, doesn’t have a ton of people, and is quiet enough to have a conversation. The first time we visited Cerf Club in San Francisco we entered with a mix of delight and disbelief that such a thing existed and no one seemed to know about it. Since it only operates as a pop-up restaurant once a month, we soon became dedicated regulars. I still remain conflicted about whether to tell everyone about it to ensure it stays in business, or to tell no one about it so we can keep this gem to ourselves. But I suppose a few more of you can join us without ruining the wonders of this place. :)
6. Jeep in redwoods. I had never been off-roading before, but it turns out it’s kind of like hiking– wonderful scenery, beautiful views– but with zero of the effort! When I had a wedding down in Carmel, Alex met me the next day for an excursion through Monterey and Big Sur. We took the top off his jeep, he did all the driving, and I just sat back and marveled at the height of the redwoods from the comfort of the passenger’s seat. All with Raleigh Ritchie’s, (a.k.a. Greyworm from Game of Thrones)’ “Time in a Tree” playing as soundtrack.
7. Kenai Cruise. The best way to see Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska is to book a cruise, and so that’s what we did. Amy and I both had low expectations — we mainly just wanted to see a glacier and some pretty scenery. I wanted to see at least one puffin. Wow. First of all, puffins were everywhere, puffing their overweight selves and barely able to fly. But we also saw all manner of wildlife, from sea lions to otters to cormorants to common murres. But the most magical moment if you ask me? When we saw two orcas who were hunting together. They came right up next to the ship, and I could see their bodies right under the water. We watched them swim back and forth for a while before moving on. And Amy’s favorite moment: we spotted the second humpback whale of the cruise from afar, and we approached just in time for our captain to give us a play-by-play as she prepared us to watch the tail bid us farewell. The perfect finale.
8. Koala spotting. On Thanksgiving Day, Alex and I were driving back on the Great Ocean Road, Australia’s equivalent of the Pacific Coast Highway. One stretch of the road runs through a eucalyptus forest, and within the trees live wild koalas! They are few and far between, but with my eyes scanning the trees, I spotted the little koala-shaped blobs one by one. Four sightings on the way out, and eight on the way back! Twelve wild koalas spotted! We stopped to say hi to a couple of them, with one especially close to the road that attracted quite a few tourists. We then proceeded to visit some wild kangaroos that live on a golf course.
9. Makupu’u Tide Pools. We stood as still as possible in the water, trying to become one with the scenery so the fish would swim freely around us. I have seen tide pools before, walking on the rocks at low tide, but I’ve never swam in them. What a special experience to go off-trail from the paved lighthouse route and scramble down the rocks to get all the way down the cliff to the tide pools, and then step on in, avoiding the sea urchins on the rocks.
10. Monochrome Sunset. We had spotted the beach on our way up through redwood country, keeping it in mind as a sunset viewpoint later. We got back just in time for the last 10 minutes of daylight, but the skies were cloudy and betrayed no sense of sunset. But although we didn’t get an array of colors, we did get huge waves, a small cove dotted with driftwood, and a surprise of black sand. Just one last black and white sunset and spectacular show of nature to bid farewell to the year.
Anna Wu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in San Francisco but often traveling and working around the world. She creates beautiful, soft, and timeless imagery while capturing the most fleeting of moments. View her work at annawu.com, follow her daily adventures on instagram, or contact her to book your own session today.