2015 in review

2015 is drawing to a close, and it has been quite a year. I’m not going to sit here and tell you how fast it went, or that I can’t believe it’s over, because you already know and everyone says the same thing. I said a year ago that 2015 was going to be a year of commitment and stability, and I was right: I’m writing to you now from the same Brooklyn apartment, where I live with the same roommate (plus one!) after a long day at the same job. It was a good year, don’t get me wrong – but I’m looking forward to some excitement in 2016. Before that, though, here’s a glimpse of the past 12 months in this delightful life of mine.

 

Winter Storm Juno 2015 in Manhattan

January & February

I’m clumping these two together because they were frankly the same: Work, schlep home in the snow, repeat. Before winter began I joked about hibernating from first snow to my mid-April birthday, and it ended up being a little more real than I anticipated. My friend Nicole did visit in February, and we ate our way around Manhattan for two days, which was a nice way to break up the monotony of the coldest New York February in nearly a century!

Also: I lead my first community group at Liberty Church, spent a day on the Upper West Side, prepared for a blizzard that never came, and went 21 days without social media.

The suburbs of Cleveland

March

In March I finally snapped out of my Brooklyn routine and flew to Cleveland for a girls weekend with my family! It was just the spark I needed to snap out of my winter funk: I reunited with my mom, sister, aunt and cousin – and remembered just how cool my birthplace can be.

Also: I celebrated one year in New York City with the best friends I could ever ask for.

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

April

With April came the spring we had all been waiting for. I spent the month cherishing the opportunity to be outside, venturing to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to soak up the sun and admire the cherry blossoms. April also brought my twenty-fifth birthday and all of the reflection that comes with such a milestone.

Also: The first-ever She Is Free conference, and Becca and I welcomed our third roommate, Faby!

One World Trade Center on a foggy day

May

May was supposed to bring a vacation, but I couldn’t get my act together in time and ended up with a New York staycation, one of my favorite things! Unfortunately, I got hit with a pretty bad head cold in the middle of it, and May got boring, but at least I wasn’t out of town when I got sick – and didn’t have to use sick days at work. Before I became bed-bound, I did see Mamma Mia!, visit One World Observatory for the first time, and pop by the Whitney – one of my favorite museums.

Also: I picnicked at Prospect Park for Memorial Day, and welcomed a slew of friends to my neighborhood as Crown Heights suddenly became “cool.”

Boston as seen from the Prudential Tower

June

In June my long-planned vacation finally fell together, and I headed off to Boston on my first solo trip. I had an incredible few days doing whatever the heck I wanted: Basically a dream come true!

Highlights included going to the top of the Prudential Tower, walking the Freedom Trail, and catching a game at Fenway Park.

The Venice Canals of Los Angeles

July

I kept up my summer travel streak by hopping over to the West Coast to reunite with some of my favorites:  I crashed with my college bestie Kathleen (also my unofficial blog adviser) met up with my aunt and uncle, and took a vow to never ever go two years without visiting California again!

Highlights of my LA trip include seeing the Venice Canals, visiting the Getty and hanging out in my favorite LA neighborhood, Santa Monica.

New York City as seen from the Top of the Rock

August

I kept still in August, but the excitement found me! My sister Ally came to visit over her nineteenth birthday, and we had adventures including a picnic dinner, a trip to Top of the Rock, and as much junk food as I could shovel into her health-conscious body. Hosting visitors is one of my favorite parts of living in New York (seriously, come visit), and I cherish getting to show off “my” city to people who have only seen the touristy parts before.

Also: I took a cruise around New York Harbor with my besties, started using Vimeo, and celebrated one year of A Genuine Delight!

New York City as seen from One World Observatory

September

The beginning of fall brought more visitors, with my parents and cousin overlapping their visits – and my best friend Jordan following shortly thereafter! There was a lot of sightseeing, including a one-day whilrwind, and catching up with loved ones. Bonus that I didn’t have to leave New York to make it happen!

Also: I launched my delightful guide to NYC!

A giraffe at Kruger National Park, South Africa

October

October was the defining month of my year: I took my first trip to Africa, mainly to do missions work with Children’s Cup, but ended up having the most transforming week of my entire life. From hitting the plains on a safari to getting to know my sponsor child in person, I am absolutely not the same person I was when I left, and I have a suspicion this trip was really only the start of a journey for me.

No “alsos” here. Africa defined October – and 2015 – and that’s perfectly fine by me.

Santa Claus at the 2015 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

November

I was worried November would feel like my life screeching to a halt, but luckily I fell right back in love with New York City – and even with fall! I spent the month jumping in piles of leaves, eating tacos in the neighborhood, and celebrating Thanksgiving surrounded by loved ones – even if we don’t share blood.

Also: I checked “Go to the Macy’s Parade” off my bucket list, and tricked my travel bug into thinking I’d left the city by trekking out to Queens County Farm.

The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza

December

December has been blissfully, blessedly uneventful. I spent lazy days with friends, had some freelance work published for the first time in years, and celebrated Christmas in Brooklyn for the second year in a row. I really cherish getting to slow down when it feels like the rest of the world is going crazy!

Also: I ate my weight in snickerdoodles and saw a lot of Christmas trees.

Other highlights of 2015 include reading 38 books (on a goal of 30!), having my photos featured on Instagram by @travelmail and @nypost, and becoming a little more comfortable with commitment (to the city, to my job, to a blog). Tomorrow we’ll look to the year ahead – but for tonight, I hope you have the loveliest time celebrating all we’ve done in 2015.

Happy new year, friends!

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The children of Swaziland

Just to get the obvious out of the way: I love kids. No, I don’t want any of my own (I could hear those of you who know me asking that in your heads). But if I could have kids with the guarantee that they would be as joyful, loving, and well-behaved as these babes I met in Swaziland – I might actually consider it. I have never met a group of children (or adults, honestly) so full of the love of Jesus.

Here are some of my favorite portraits (slash selfies), and a handful of tales.

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All the kids were happy to play with whatever was available: Slides, swingsets or even just each other!

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You may remember this guy from a previous post – we were rather attached to each other. Most of the kids get only one meal a day: MannaPack Rice, developed by an organization called Feed My Starving Children – you can see it in his bowl above. It has all of the nutrients a kid needs. We also provided chickens while visiting as a special treat!

As a sidenote, the kids were all SO well-behaved at meal time. They’d line up to wash their hands under a faucet, collect their food from the kitchen, and go off to sit and eat together. When they were done, they’d rinse their bowl in a larger bowl of clean water and deliver it back to the kitchen – even the toddlers knew this routine!

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“Are you sisters?” “NO we’re friends!” – said with the implication that friend is a higher ranking than sister.

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I was seriously impressed with the school-aged children as well. They’d come at meal time carrying younger neighbors and relatives, then wait patiently until all  of the little kids had been fed before jumping in line themselves. And they were so curious about us, asking questions about life in America – but equally eager to answer all of our own questions!

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Everyone just wanted to help out with whatever we were doing, even film production.

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Little faces peeking into the classroom we were painting. When we were done, I was resting on the steps outside the school, and a little girl came over to sit by me. She noticed my hands were caked in dry paint, and started picking it off with her little fingernails! Next thing I knew, a half-dozen little ones were surrounding me, each working on one of my fingers until I was completely paint-free.

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The kids were, of course, obsessed with the selfie feature on our phones. Here you can also see two of the caretakers in the background – these women work so hard and so selflessly every single day!

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One last shot with my sponsor child (in pink) – I swear I have more pictures of her than anyone else I’ve ever met. I just love her SO MUCH!

These kids completely made my trip: They loved me in a way I hadn’t been loved before, they served me like it was second nature, and they’re the reason I just can’t wait to get back to Swaziland.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can also check out my video of the kids here.

African safari

I was never really a “zoo kid” growing up. We would go see the animals on occasion, and I took a couple classes there as a kid – that’s how I learned I really like snakes, of all things. In sixth grade I spent a night at the zoo in Colorado Springs with my Sunday school class and it was basically a nightmare – peacocks running around while I sleep? No thank you.

Needless to say, going on a safari wasn’t something I ever gave much thought to. In addition to Africa just seeming so far away, the idea of being out in the wild, with these creatures in their natural habitat, didn’t appeal to me at all. But when I heard we’d be doing two three-hour outings at Kruger National Park before our mission trip to Swaziland, well, I started getting excited. And as soon as we entered the park, you’d think a safari was all I’d ever dreamed of.  This is one so-called once-in-a-lifetime experience I’d do again in a heartbeat.

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That giraffe and this pack of elephants were spotted on the drive to the hotel – still in the van, not even on safari, crawling all over each other to get the picture-perfect shot. (On a related note, a lot of these photos are pretty poor quality, but I was going for subject matter here.)

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This was the moment I realized this would be very different from those zoo trips: Just some monkeys casually eating the leftovers of some guests who’d left the table.

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It would seem lions appreciate a beautiful sunset just as much as humans do.

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If you look closely on the branch to the right of that tree, you’ll spy a cheetah resting after chasing down its breakfast. (I do also have photos of cheetahs eating said breakfast, but I’ll spare you).

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Another cheetah spotting: Can you see it?! Finding these animals was like a giant game of Where’s Waldo, and I’m forever grateful to our experienced guide, Clive, who was ridiculously patient in pointing things out to us.

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It’s called Crocodile River, but it’s full of hippos! It’s also a rather lovely spot to enjoy a morning coffee.

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Warthogs! Or as I like to call them, pumbas. Those suckers are much faster than I ever imagined!

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And finally, not from safari but still a favorite: A peacock at a shopping center in Swaziland. I suppose they’re not all bad – so long as they’re not keeping me up at night!

Which animal would you be itching to spy on a safari? I found myself most excited about the zebras!

Africa in videos, and some notes on the making of

You guys know I’ve been having fun making little videos of my adventures and posting them over on Vimeo. Well, Africa was such a big, varying trip that I felt it warranted TWO videos – one about our time on safari and one about the work we did with Children’s Cup – and I’m so excited to share them with you here.

South African Safari from Leigh Anne Zinsmeister on Vimeo.

Children’s Cup Swaziland from Leigh Anne Zinsmeister on Vimeo.

I make my videos using a fairly new iPhone app called Cameo, which is actually run by Vimeo. I took some basic videography courses in college as part of my journalism degree, and all of my videos at the time were absolute garbage. I just couldn’t manage the heavy equipment, the sound, the lighting – and then all of the work that goes into uploading shots to a computer followed by tedious editing.

Cameo makes everything SO easy because I can do everything – from shooting to editing to uploading – right on my phone. These videos here are WAY better than anything I ever produced in college! And last week I had the honor of visiting the Vimeo offices here in New York City and chatting with some of the Cameo team, so I can now officially say that this company is as cool as they seem, and the people are fantastic. Highly recommend for anyone who wants to explore video-making, because I never thought it was something I could handle!

I swear they didn’t pay me to say any of this. I’m just a huge, huge fan of the company and their product! Thanks for helping me document my trip, Vimeo!

Currently: November 2015

Fall in NYC...

Fall in NYC…

...Spring in Southern Africa!!

…Spring in Southern Africa!!

Reading: The Royal We, thanks to my friend Molly who let me register my Kindle to her account so I could read her books on my trip – and is now letting me keep it that way for a while so I can finish them all!

Wearing: Dark skinny jeans, black boots, black sweater, Giving Key necklace. Feeling very fall-ish and very New York.

Buying: Mostly new sweaters and other cold-weather necessities, but I need to get started on Christmas shopping!

Listening to: Hot Country on Spotify – right at this moment, Hell of a Night by Dustin Lynch

Eating: All I’ve had today so far is eggs and a handful of raisins for breakfast, and a bag of Goldfish crackers for snack. But there are potstickers in the fridge for lunch, and I’m thinking sushi for dinner before church!

Watching: Still sticking with The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and re-watching Sex and the City on Amazon. I’ve added Veep to shows I’m binge-watching  (for the first time!): My roommate cracked and gave me her HBO password!

Texting: My sister, constantly.

Planning: Just trying to keep my schedule manageable as the holidays creep closer and closer! But mentally I’m starting to plan vacations for next year: San Francisco, Phoenix, etc. …

Excited for: The holidays! I’m taking Thanksgiving off so I can go to the parade (bucket list, anyone?) and I just really really love Christmastime in New York City. The store windows are already set up, the villages are in progress, and oh – it’s still in the 70s most days. Best fall ever.

Cherishing: This weather, obviously. I’m still taking my lunches outside and not hating myself in the early mornings. I haven’t even worn a hat at all yet!

Wishing: I could be in two places at once. Africa is still constantly on my heart & mind!