This year seems to have flown by! It just about feels like only yesterday we were welcoming in 2023, and now we're just a few hours from 2024. Yet, a lot has happened in my life this past year, so I thought that now would be the perfect time to share all about it!
But before I share what's new in my life, I thought that some updates on Vegan Empire would be appropriate. Specifically, the recipes on Vegan Empire!
As you'll see a little later, I've been a bit busy throughout the year, working on rowing and finishing out the school year, trying to graduate early, so I wasn't able to add many new recipes to my collection. However, in these past few months I did manage to write 5 new ones, which are, in my opinion, each very tasty and definitely worth trying! All five have been a hit and have already been made multiple times!
Here they are!
Similarly, the "party planning" section has seen the addition of 3 new party ideas that my family has thrown this year. A Teddy Bear Picnic Party for Mother's Day, a Jungle Cruise Birthday Party for my little sister, and a Dark Woods Halloween Party! Each features festive decorations and tasty treats!
Now, with those updates out of the way, here's what I've been up to this past year!
Then, on the 31st, my family and I flew to El Salvador for a wedding. We only stayed for a few days, but we still got to spend some time with our family, enjoy the beach, and I took a surfing lesson while we were there! I've only had a handful of lessons over the years, and I'm not very good at it, but it was still a lot of fun and I was able to ride a few waves!
We made it back home from El Salvador at the start of the month. After which, we didn't do all that much until the Tennessee Indoor Rowing Championships at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. Leading up to it there were plenty of intense practices with weights, ergs, and running. It was painful, but I still showed up every day and worked hard! On the day of the competition, February 25th, I unfortunately did not get a PR and I was close to placing last. I was determined to not let that happen again and to redeem myself out on the water!
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I also attended a day-long US Rowing ID camp sometime in February! It was in the hopes of being selected for one of their programs!
I don't quite remember why I decided to do this, but on March 15th I got on my erg and completed a half-marathon. It was 21,097 meters in a single sitting, and it took me an hour and 46 minutes from start to finish. It was a while ago, so I don't remember every detail, but I do remember telling myself that I would never again do a long-distance piece like that. It hurt and I was sore for days after that, so I didn't want to experience that ever again. However, I am also stubborn, as you'll see in May ;)
A few days later, on March 18th, I was at rowing practice, and it started normal, but didn't end that way. I was in a double that day, the one that I'd practicing in that spring, and we were waiting at the "catch" when we suddenly flipped. We weren't even rowing, but about to start the piece, when one of us must have dug our oars a little too deep! To make matters worse, this happened on the coldest day of the season when there were freeze warnings and even ice on the dock! Our coach had to fish us out and take us back in her launch! It's funny looking back now, but it was a bit scary at the time (we were launching and smiling as soon as we were in the boat though!).
Flipping was a funny experience, but it wasn't good for our confidence, especially being exactly one week before our first regatta of the season! The America's Youth Cup was on the 25th, and that lineup raced, so we were nervous about flipping again that day! We didn't, but we didn't place very well either, finishing in last.
It was still a fun regatta regardless!
Not long afterwards I attended my first interview on March 28th. It was for a summer volunteer program at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. It was a group session, and it went well! Especially since I was accepted for the opportunity!
And to end the month, a new 2k PR, having shaved off just a few additional seconds! (March 31st)
As I mentioned earlier, in February I attended a US Rowing ID Camp. Sometime in April I received an invitation from them saying that I'd been selected for the ODP Youth Development Camp that summer. I was really excited when Mami told me that I could go! I'd never gone to summer camp before, and this would be one where I'd get to practice my favorite sport at the same time! To make it even better, one of my teammates would also be going and we'd get to be roommates for those 2 weeks!
But camp wouldn't be until June. In the meantime, we still had to focus on practice!
On April 15th we attended a scrimmage at Baylor. It was an unofficial regatta where my quad finished 3rd of 4, even after being faced with a ton of obstacles, but being unofficial, there were no medals rewarded. We were a bit sad about that, but once again, it was still a fun regatta!
And the week afterwards was an even better regatta! Dogwood Junior Championships were on the 22nd, and this time I would compete in two events: a double (with another double partner) and a quad (the same one from Baylor).
The double was first, placing 16th of 28 and qualifying for semi-finals. Then I had to "hot seat" into the quad where we finished 20th of 24; not enough to move on. In my double's semi-finals we pulled in with a close last, but still last, nonetheless.
For the month of May, I knew that the Concept2 logbook website would be offering pins as prizes for anyone who completes the "Marathon and Century Challenge." In other words, I wanted one of those pins, so on May 3rd I hopped on my erg and rowed a marathon.
The regatta that we were all looking forward to most that spring took place on May 13th. It was Southeast Regionals! From what I've been told, it typically takes place in Sarasota, FL, but this year it was in Lake Lanier, GA, closer to home, and so the whole team would go! I rowed in the women's youth doubles event, competing in the same double from Percy Priest. We didn't advance after time trials, but I can honestly say that I tried my best!
With Regionals over, the spring rowing season had ended as well! And with that, I could focus completely on finishing with my schoolwork! At that point, I didn't have much left to do, so by May 19th, all of my final exams were complete, and I'd officially finished with all of my high school courses!
Now, with my own school complete, I've been helping to tutor my little sister since before I go to college!
Anyways, following a graduation brunch for a teammate and great friend of mine, on May 20th when we had returned home, my Mami took some graduation pictures to celebrate! I'd been homeschooled, taking virtual courses online, so Mami was the one who presented me with my diploma that day!
Not long after was my little sister's 15th birthday! My Mami and I threw her a Jungle Cruise themed party, with quite a few tasty treats and a lot of fun decorations! We all had a lot of fun celebrating with her, and I personally think that it was an overall success!
May 30th was my first day volunteering at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. Over the summer I spent over 30 hours working there, sometimes helping with the plant displays (I helped establish the "pitcher plant" display) but mostly assisting with the kids' STEM camps.
As I mentioned, I'd been invited to the USRowing ODP camp for the summer, and with it coming up, I asked my coach for the chance to row a single so that I'd be ready for anything at camp!
On June 10th, I finally got that opportunity and practiced in a single for the first time! It was harder than I'd thought it would be, but I didn't flip, and I call that a success!
Just the day after, on June 11th, the day had finally come to go to the ODP camp! I had an amazing time there, rowing twice a day, with some hard workouts, both on land and on the water, and making some great friends and amazing memories!
When we weren't training, we were still having fun, either in our dorm rooms or going on group activities like exploring the city of Chattanooga or going on a tubing trip on the 17th. That tubing trip was fun, but it was also pretty exciting and dangerous!
Then, there was the Summer Cup on the 23rd where I won 2 silver medals, concluded with a pool party at the McCallie school "lake".
I can honestly say that it was all an amazing experience!
And at the end of the summer, on July 27th, was this year's Row Huntsville team banquet! It was my second time going to one of them, and they've always been a blast! This year it was at one of my teammate's family's farm, which was amazing, and we got to enjoy a super fun slip & slide! We spent a lot of time going up and down it, with a few races as well!
This year I didn't receive an award, but I honestly don't think that I deserved one. I could have trained harder, and more importantly, been more disciplined. So, this year, I'm working extra hard to prove myself!
But even with the team banquet, there was still one last thing that we were looking forward to that summer...the parent-athlete row on July 29th! There, my Mami and I would get to row in a double together! It was my Mami's first time rowing in these types of shells, and it was an extremely fun experience! I can't wait to do it again!
August didn't have many major events for me this year, other than submitting most of my college applications on the 4th. However, it was still really busy, as it's when I decided to really start working harder to become the best rower that I can be! I started using the erg for over an hour each day, training hard every time!
After a whole month of training at home on a rowing machine, I was thrilled to get back out on the water! The first day of fall practice was on September 5th, and it felt great to be able to row again!
One of my greatest accomplishments this year was on October 2nd when I became one of my team's co-captains! The election was on September 30th, but it wasn't until the next Monday after practice that we were told the results! My new double partner (we started rowing our double this fall) and I were both chosen, and I'm thrilled about the results!
And it was just in time for our first regatta of the season too! The Music City Head Race was on October 7th, and I would be racing both a double and a quad. It was windy the entire time, and my double partner wasn't feeling very well, but we still placed 12th of 19, and 10th of 12 in the quad!
And though I was busy with rowing, our family's fall fun wouldn't be complete without a trip to the orchard to pick some apples! So, on October 13th, we went to an orchard in Tennessee to pick some and have a sweet apple cider slushie! As always, it was a great time and we all had a ton of fun!
The Secret City Head Race was the day after, on October 14th. There we were faced with poor weather once again, even worse than at Music City, but once again we pulled through! In the double we got 10th of 17. It was a tough race, so I'm still happy with that ranking. The quad did better though, finishing 4th of 9! It was an amazing quad, my favorite so far! We all worked well together, gave it 100%, and made a fast boat! I wish we could have rowed in it again. We hadn't had any practice together prior to the race, but we still did well, so I can only imagine how well we'd do if we got the chance to practice together!
All of us in that quad were proud of how we'd done, and so, at the regatta, we joked about how 4th place deserved cardboard medals, so on the 16th, once I was back home, I made them! I gave one to each of my teammates from that lineup and they each loved them; they thought that they were funny and even my coaches liked them!
With Halloween approaching, there were still some things that we wanted to do to celebrate. Mami and I watched a horror movie or two, and on the 22nd we went to a haunted corn maze with one of my friends and her mom.
I'd never been to a haunted house or anything, so this was a completely new experience. The maze wasn't terrifying, and there were parts that weren't scary at all, but I was scared when the guys with chainsaws jumped out! I ran away from them as fast as I could and everyone in my group laughed at that! But I still had a great time!
I mentioned that we were celebrating the days leading up to Halloween, so of course we did something for the actual holiday! I threw a Dark Woods themed Halloween party for Mami, Ariana, and myself! There were a ton of spooky decorations and tasty treats that we all enjoyed! And we watched the new Haunted Mansion movie as well!
The regatta in itself was amazing too! It was the first time that I attended the Head of the Hooch with nice weather, and it made for some great rows!
On Saturday, November 4th, I raced my double and four. The double was the boat that I had the highest hopes for, and it did not disappoint! We placed 40th of 69 in that event! The four didn't do that well, however, getting 46th of 53.
Then on Sunday, November 5th, it was the race that I was most anxious about: my single. First thing in the morning, while it was still chilly, I set out all by myself for what was my scariest race ever! By the time I'd actually started racing, however, I felt better about it and gave it everything I had! And I accomplished all 3 of my personal goals for that race which were as follows:
After that I hopped back in a boat for the last time this season, where my quad pulled in 43rd of 47. Another successful Head of the Hooch!
Upon returning home, I tried to tackle another Concept2 challenge, attempting the Century Challenge on November 11th. Had I completed it, it would have been a 100,000-meter piece. However, 5 hours and 38 minutes later, it hurt too much to keep going. I was extremely sore, and my hands were getting a ton of blisters, and my feet hurt for some reason, so Mami and I thought that it would be best to stop before I injured myself. I did, however, manage to erg 52,377 meters in a single piece! And, most importantly, it was the final bit of meters that I needed to become part of Concept2's Million Meter Club! I was (and am) super proud of that!
After working hard on the erg for several months, but not having done a 2k test in a long while, on November 17th, I got on the erg and worked hard, pushing past the pain and not stopping until I'd crossed the finishing line! I hit a new PR with a time of 8:18 (my goal had been 8:20), with this being my best erg time of the year! I was super happy about that!
Though that 2k PR was a great way to start out the day, November 17th still proved to be the worst day of the year. That evening, Nutmeg, one of my family's precious guinea pigs, passed away unexpectedly.
She was adorable, super sweet, and we all loved her with all of our hearts! None of us knew that she wasn't well, so it was a horrible shock to suddenly see her the way that she was, and then for her to pass away within a few short hours. I'll miss her terribly!
Still unsure about which college I should go to, the only way that I'd be able to make a decision would be to go visit my top choices! So, on November 28th, after my first practice of winter training (at CrossFit), Mami and I started our trip to Florida. We toured 4 schools in 3 days, meeting with the rowing coaches at 3 of them. Having seen the schools in person and learning about what they had to offer, my top choice became clear, and now all that's left to do is wait to hear back from them and see what happens!
There was about a week of practice at CrossFit before we went on a break for the holidays. Winter training is always tough, and it always leaves me sore! Erg workouts are tough and really work the lungs, and weight training leaves me incredibly sore for days afterwards! Anyways, on December 17th we wouldn't have practice, but some teammates, including myself, went to the movies together for a special showing of the new The Boys in the Boat movie. I stayed up late the night before to finish reading the book (it was a gift from my Sweet Sixteen), and though the movie was great, I still think that I prefer the book version!
And finally, on December 23rd my Mami, Ariana, Canela, Noelle, and I all drove to Canada to spend Christmas with family! I hadn't seen my grandparents since we'd left El Salvador in January, and it had been years since I'd seen my cousins, so it was great to finally spend some time all together! It was just a short trip though, and after a great time celebrating Christmas, we had to return home on the 27th.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that this year had its ups and downs, but I think that all-in-all, it was a great year, and I can't wait to see what 2024 brings!