Tag Archives: Year in Review

What I cast away in 2016

Americans, I think, tend to think about things — everything — in terms of gain. Bigger means better. More is good. The best houses are mansions. Personal income and the stock market should always go up. Value meals are valuable because they offer more calories for the buck. The Grand Canyon is worth seeing because it’s, well, grand.

I look at my accomplishments like this. A job worth doing is even better when I can multi-task. Any day is a better day when I can look back on a long list of things to do that got done. A year is always better when it was full.

But 2016 was not of year of making gains for me, it was a year of losing things. Mostly, I lost clutter, an untidy collection of people, places and things no one wants.

A big thing I lost was a court case. I wrote about this court case last January, when we were in the midst of trial. To summarize a seven-year ordeal as succinctly as I can, I was among four named plaintiffs suing on behalf of 400 fellow employees to recoup our retirement fund. I was hopeful a year ago that we would prevail, but we didn’t. The judge issued his ruling in September and I learned, much to my dismay, that losers have to pay the winners’ court fees. Yeah, first I lost my retirement, then I lost the court case and then I was on the hook to pay literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees. That would explain why I never blogged about the judgment; I struggled to find a bright spot.

But after much back and forth, we were forgiven the court fees and legally put the whole drama to bed. So even though I lost the case, I gained peace of mind and the gift of putting all the stress and sorrow behind me.

My Beloved and I also observed the end of an era when my stepson (the younger of my two stepchildren) graduated from college and got a job. He’s still our child, but he’s no longer a child. He’s a self-supporting adult. What we lose in terms of a dependent, we gain in the form of a new approach to parenting. Less control, more equality.

I also helped my stepdaughter scrape a barnacle off the hull of her ship. Without getting into the details, I relished in the opportunity to live in the same house with her for a while, a chance I didn’t get when she was a teenager. Living together with anyone breeds familiarity and in this case, affection.

I effectively and definitively kicked my 40s to the curb in 2016. On Dec. 23, I officially became a member of the AARP crowd. Honestly, I hate aging and I’m not thrilled to be 50, but let’s just say, I discovered some elixirs to dull the effects. Thank you, modern pharmaceuticals.


An image of abundance, captured at an outdoor market in Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t need to buy pounds of dried fruits or nuts to appreciate their beauty.

Other losses in 2016: The Cubs ended a long drought of World Series wins. That was fun. The Dems lost the White House. No matter what you think of the result, a poli-sci major like me found the whole messy process fascinating. I gave up my post-a-day blogging habit, having written something on this blog only 81 times this year, the fewest since 2008 when I posted three times (I’m hoping to turn this bad habit around in 2017).  And I lost 17 glorious June days on a European vacation. In fact, I traveled 161 days in 2016, and the only thing I missed about home was the bills stacking up.

Most significantly and triumphantly, I lost an ugly pantry, some disgusting bathroom flooring and a literal ton of household ephemera. When we decided to list our house on the market (the house itself was the reason for the aforementioned bills), we knew we had to remodel the pantry (did you miss the before-and-after shots? Not to worry — click here) and replace the carpeting in the master bath. Yes, carpeting. Can’t believe I lived with it for nine years. My Beloved and I learned how to tile, and now I can see each individual stray strand of hair I leave behind after a shampoo. After sorting through every last closet and drawer in the house, we shredded 14 boxes of paperwork, filled the trash can innumerable times and dropped off 15 carloads (or at least trunks full) of stuff at Goodwill. I won’t miss a single one of those things, and I’ve learned how to curb my propensity to accumulate.

To fair, not all that I cast away had an upside. I also lost a few treasures.

Like my uncle, who succumbed to a brain tumor in September at age 65. I got one last visit with him in August that feels like a gift.

And my youth, which died quietly of an overdose in April in an elevator in Paisley Park. Of all the shocking celebrity deaths in 2016, Prince’s was personal for anyone who considers Minnesota home.

These sorts of losses serve as reminders that time is short and should be spent carefully, with people and in places we love. So here’s to 2017: May we all spend our time well.

My 2013 in review

An acquaintance on Facebook mentioned that instead of making a list of resolutions, she intended to list the lessons she’s learned in 2013, events that made a difference in her life, sweet things people said and nice moments she doesn’t want to forget.

I like that idea (though I’ll probably make a list of resolutions, too — one of which is to create a blog schedule), and I’ll add an annual report for my blog.

Lessons I’ve learned in 2013
  1. Luck and timing have a lot more to do with success than effort. Cynical perhaps, but true. I was lucky this year.
  2. No amount of good living can assuage menopause and hot flashes.
  3. The best way to get something done: Focus.
Events that made a difference in my life
  • My Adored stepson graduated from high school. Though I had almost nothing to do with it except for editing a few papers, I am immensely proud of him and irrationally relieved. Bonus: We threw him a great graduation party.
  • One of my former employers declared bankruptcy for a second time. This shocking development saddened me (because I had friends who still worked there) but also provided me with a great deal of entertainment because the company’s demise was both prolonged and strange.
  • My father decided it was time to build a bookcase for me. This prompted me to finally paint and redecorate my home office, which is now a beautiful place for the incubation of ideas.
Sweet things people said

I know people said sweet things to me, especially during my book tour to my home town in April and after my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday party (which I played a large part in organizing), but honestly, I can’t remember the details. Because of the aforementioned hot flashes, I consciously attempted to wipe all details of my day from my mind as I fell asleep every night so I wouldn’t ruminate on them to the point of keeping me awake. So while I know people said sweet things, including 5-star reviews of my memoir and more thoughtful comments here on my blog than I can link to, I can’t recount them here. It was a sweet year.

Nice moments I don’t want to forget
  • Whiling away a lazy Sunday afternoon eating homemade cilantro dip and drinking Coronas on the deck of a South Padre Island bar in February.
  • When my stepson and my mother-in-law looked at the beautiful albums I made for them for the first time.
  • Participating with 50 other authors at an author fair in Aurora, Ill.
  • Brainstorming with an energetic new colleague on a 2014 project.
  • How great my office looked when I finally moved all the books back onto the new bookshelves.
  • Quiet moments with my Beloved too numerable to mention.

And finally, the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here are a few excerpts:

  • The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
  • In 2013, there were 286 new posts (about 5.5 a week), growing the total archive of this blog to 1,542 posts.
  • The busiest day of the year was January 21st with 217 views. The most popular entry posted that day was The intersection of ‘a good leader’ and ‘what I’d like to see in a leader.’

Thank you, dear readers, for allowing me to occupy a small part of your important brain space this year. I appreciate you!

2011, examined

Last year’s fruit simmered into a good vintage for me, and I’m savoring it.

Yes, I know it’s already Jan. 4, and by the looks of the pink Valentine’s Day glitter and green St. Patrick’s Day hats in stores, I ought to be marching ever more briskly into the future. How dare I look back.

But as Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Pastor and blogger Tom Basson addressed this subject recently (click here to read his thought-provoking post), suggesting the first thing on the to-do list for 2012 should be to reflect on 2011.

So let’s reflect, shall we?

Back on Dec. 31, 2010, I wrote a post about puking up the mojo of a sorrowful year during which the stepson I adore decided to move away to live with his mother and people I respected at work were making like rats on a sinking ship. (only that metaphor is feeble because they were more like Cinderellas stepping into new glass slippers and I was left with a rat). So on the last day of the year, I was expelling the vomit of 2010 to make room for new, good things.

I proceeded to spend 10 weeks in a 1983 RV with my Beloved and my mother-in-law enjoying the warm weather of Texas, the Gulf coast and Florida while my fellow northern Illini endured The Blizzard of the Century. That escape was the right prescription for what ailed me.

Over the course of the next eight months, my Beloved and I managed to spend nearly six weeks with my adored stepson, culminating in a weeklong sojourn for the three of us to Puerto Vallarta during which Caswell and I spent late nights discussing the meaning of life (and love). I felt vindicated as a stepmother.

Part of the reason we were able to spend so much time in Minnesota and elsewhere with Caswell was because I was laid off in June. Five or 10 years ago, being laid off might have embarrassed me. But after being on the management end of unavoidable layoffs and witnessing the collateral damage of what seems like an endless recession, I knew the demise of the company for which I worked was less about me and more about the circus surrounding me. The end was a relief.

I took advantage of the time on my hands by putting my fingers to work — finishing the manuscript of a memoir I started five years ago. It was an emotional struggle exploring the failures of my first marriage, but it felt so good to finish. After sending it off to 20 agents, I laid the manuscript aside for a few months but I’m ready to take it up again.

Meanwhile, I posted to Minnesota Transplant 303 times — not quite the Post A Day I aspired to, but not too shabby. And I got Freshly Pressed in September (click here for the original post that won me WordPress fame and here for the follow-up post about the thrill).

After enduring (enjoying?) unemployment and, coincidentally, the stock car racing season for four and half months, I forged ahead boldly in a new job with a fledgling company where my contributions make a difference. I’m as excited as a race car driver on Memorial Day weekend. Start your engines!

You know, the year wasn’t perfect. My foot hurts more than I’d like (but it’s nothing a little time in a $200 hot tub can’t fix). The Minnesota Twins sucked (and so did the Chicago Bears). And for a while, I was concerned Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry might get the Republican nomination for president (thank goodness, that’s behind us).

But other than that, 2011 was a very good year. Let’s toast to another one!