As I assume a lot of people do, I absolutely love winter break.  There's something about knowing you're halfway done with another school year that just feels so great.  Spending time with family and friends.  The coziness.  Oh yeah, not to mention everything about Christmastime that is so wonderful - the decorations, the music, the traditions, the food and just the overall happiness those things produce.  And there's also my birthday on December 30.  

It's always nice to have a month off from school, but this break just beat all the ones in the past.  As I'm back in the swing of reality in school and my internship (which are still going great), I often catch myself reminiscing and counting my blessings from the break.  So why was it so wonderful?

First of all, I didn't have any finals.  I think everybody wanted to punch me when they heard that, but trust me, this has never happened to me and won't be the case this semester.  I just lucked out in the sense that I had some sort of final project due in all my classes rather than a final exam to take.  Those were stressful in their own way, especially when they were all due within a day of each other, so take your pick.  That being said, I got an extra week off from school, which gave me five weeks.  

Two days after classes ended, my family and I flew to New York City.  We had never been at Christmastime, and that was a lifelong dream of my mom's.  The main reason we went was for me to do informational interviews, but my whole family loves the city, so they had to tag along too. ;) My interviews went really well, and I feel like I learned a lot and became even more excited for my career.  We spent a lot of time with my super cool godfather who lives in Brooklyn and who was so gracious to let us stay with him yet again.  We did Christmasy things like going to Macy's to see the window displays and decorations, seeing the Rockettes, seeing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and trying chestnuts. (Note: I don't know if we chose a bad cart or what, but we were not fans of the chestnuts.  Kinda ruined the whole "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" bit.  Sad day.)  We also saw The Book of Mormon and hit up some of our favorite haunts like George's, McGee's Pub and Three Jolly Pigeons.  My parents left halfway into the trip, but my brother stayed with me, and we had a blast exploring and trying new things.

After that busy week, I was pretty exhausted and spent a lot of time relaxing, drinking coffee out of Christmas mugs and watching Christmas movies.  Christmas Day was just what we all wanted.  It was just the four of us - my parents, brother and me.  But I loved it.  My brother came out to the house early, and we opened presents.  We had agreed our trip to New York would be a huge part of our Christmas, and I already got the camera I wanted early, so no huge news to tell, but all the gifts were thoughtful and just what everybody needed.  We ate lunch and went to go see Saving Mr. Banks.  Since it is just the four of us and we all love movies, it has become our tradition to go to the movies on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The movie was way better and more magical than I could have ever expected, and I highly recommend it!

Another huge reason this break was so fantastic is my friends.  We hung out a lot after Christmas, and it was perfect.  I truly realize how fortunate I am to still have friends from home, and there's just something different about the people who have known you from where you started.  I'm so proud of all of them and how they're doing academically, professionally and personally.  I'm constantly inspired by them.  The core group, The Clique Six, met at Cracker Barrel the day after Christmas for our annual secret Santa exchange.  It's hard to believe two of the girls are engaged!  We spent a lot of time with wedding talk, as well as hearing what everybody else is up to and what everybody plans to do when we graduate in just a few months.  Ahh.  Weren't we all just catching up over winter break our freshman year and thinking how crazy it was we had finished one semester of college?!  Time flies.  That night we made our annual trip to Opryland Hotel with a few other friends.  We do the exact same thing, take the exact same route, take the exact same pictures every year and comment every year on how we always do the exact same thing.  I love that though.  It always gives me a sense of familiarity to look forward to.  And who know where we'll all be next year, and if this might happen to be the last annual Opryland trip we all take together?!  If you can't tell, I'm getting extremely sentimental about us all getting so old and life splitting us in so many directions.  We pretty much spent the rest of break doing as many fun things as we could think of, from bowling to buying bridesmaid dresses for Emily's wedding to going to downtown Nashville.  Erin and Ali stayed home longer than anybody else, so we did a lot of things with just the three of us, but it was just as great.  We've always been close, but I feel like we got even closer over break, and I couldn't be more thankful for their friendship!

My birthday was perfect.  I spent the day with my family and enjoyed shopping at Green Hills (funny how my shopping decisions revolve around work clothes now) and eating at The Cheesecake Factory.  Then I spent that night with my friends, and they all made it a great celebration.

 I spent New Year's Eve with my friends from school at a small get together at Rachel's boyfriend's house, and it was just the fun and low key thing I'd prefer to do on NYE.

Toward the end of break, a huge event best friend in the entire world who has been my best friend since second grade, Kelsey, got engaged!  She and Bo have been dating for nine years and are absolutely perfect for each other.  Bo had planned the most elaborate proposal, which would take me all day to write about.  Basically, he created a scavenger hunt taking Kelsey to different places that were important to them and ended at the Pedestrian Bridge in Nashville with a chandelier hanging over him as he got down on one knee and presented her with the most gorgeous, sparkly 2.5 carat engagement ring.  I am so thrilled for them and am already loving hearing the wedding plans!  I was ecstatic I was the first person Kelsey called and the fact I got to join their families that night to celebrate.  Kelsey is not sappy at all and said she didn't cry once, but I had tears running down my face as she told me the story.  I'm just so over the moon for my best friend.  The next night, we gathered at Kelsey's house with two of our other friends (and fellow bridesmaids) and Bo to hear the story in full detail and watch the sweet videos Bo had made Kelsey to watch while she rode to the different locations that night.

I know I'm about to sound like a huge cheeseball, but I was just thinking this the other day and explaining it to my roommate, Lauren, the other night.  Sometimes I literally wake up and think, "How did I get so lucky?"  My life is not perfect by any means.  In fact, last semester was the most stressful one I've had.  I was doing a lot, which I love to be busy, but I was definitely burnt out, not soaking up life like I should and I know there were times I was in a funk and wasn't the nicest person ever to those around me (sorry to my fab roomies who put up with me :)).  2013 overall was a year of lots of change (in fact, it's really weird to think about how different things became between January and December), and there were definitely some hard moments that I'm very glad I made it through.  However, sometimes I am literally in awe by the things I am blessed with, which far outweigh the bad things.  I have friends in several different groups who have shown me true friendship (which is not easy to come by), loved me and taken care of me.  No matter the time or distance, I know they'll always be by my side and be the ones I can count on.  I have a family who loves me, supports me and sacrifices so I can be happy.  My heart is so filled with so many things that not everybody has.  I've been through hard times, and I (like many people) have met people who didn't have my best interest at heart.  Right now, these are times and people that bring me peace and joy, and I refuse to take that for granted for even a day.  I know it's just begun, but I feel great about 2014.  I know it's going to bring a whole lot of change, and there will be some hard times, but I know I'm going to grow, learn and continue to love these blessings in my life.