What 2015 Taught Me

Every year I get year-end retrospectives in my Christmas cards and I love hearing about the adventures and exploits of my friends and family. And there is a certain longing when I read those notes because I want to be the kind of person that has adventures. But for me each chunk of time seems to be measured by what I learned and not by what I did. Here are the four things that stick out.

Embrace Your Passions

Prior to starting this blog, it had been a long time since I gave into my desire to write. A long, long time. In 2015, a chance interaction sparked that fire and over the course of the second half of the year I have remembered why it is important to fuel the passions that give you joy. No, I don’t have a worldwide following. No, I am not the next big thing. But having this blog gives me permission — focus — to indulge in something beyond my work and my family, something this is just about me. I find the couple of hours a week that I sit on my iPad and quietly consider life to be some of the most rewarding and recharging time I have. I had forgotten I was important in that way and I’m glad 2015 reminded me.

Love Hard, No Matter What

There were times in 2015 when I thought my heart would break because I lost things that I loved, both relationships that were core to who I am and beloved pets who had intertwined in my life. I cried this year, bigger and harder than I have in many others. But in the end the pain was a reflection of saying good-bye to something truly amazing — unique experiences that not everyone has the chance to experience. So I learned that if you love hard and you put yourself out there, sometimes you get hurt. And that’s ok. I learned that I’m the kind of person who wants to feel greatly, both the great joys and the great pains.

Things Change

When I started the year, I was planning to be part of a new company, considering how that would impact my future and my possibilities. Now that is off and my company is looking forward to an exciting future alone. When I started the year, my daughter and I were struggling to be in the same page and I felt like the enemy. Now, she is on a fabulous path to adulthood and seeks me out as an ally. When I started the year we were still feeling new in our community, still transplants. Now, we’ve explored the boating scene, made friends with our neighbors and found ‘our restaurants’. This year reminded me that life is about holding on, taking a breath and understanding that if you are open to possibility every situation has the opportunity for good.

Things Stay the Same

I’ve already posted about my ’20-Year Year’ but 2015 reinforced for me that some things have remained remarkably constant. My love of learning. My commitment to and joy from my marriage. My willingness to close doors when they need to be closed. True, you can’t have a 20-year year without remarking on how much weight you’ve gained, wrinkles you’ve added and scars you’ve collected, but this year also reminded me that my core has remained ridiculously stable. People who have known me for years recognize me in an instant, not because of how I look but because of who I am. 2015 taught me that core values don’t really change, which has been good and bad. I really like the person I am, but I’d still rather be the kind of person who likes to exercise.

So, that’s my 2015 retrospective. Life taught me to embrace the things that bring me fulfillment and joy, to love hard even when it hurts, to be strong through change and hold tight to the constants. It was a good year and as it ends I find myself turning to think about what 2016 will bring and what those 366 days will teach me.

Ooooh, a whole extra day to get smarter — only the nerd in me would think of that.

Home for the Holidays

When we moved away from our hometown three years ago, nothing changed more than our approach to holidays. For twelve years we took for granted our close proximity to family and our ability to be available for everything from impromtu birthday dinners to elaborate Easter egg hunts. We laughed at people who fought airports and highways, packing presents and pets in a weighted down minivan to get to family festivities.

We didn’t realize how good we had it.

When our kids were little we packed a ton into the 30-hours around Christmas. Without taking any vacation time at all we could host a Christmas Eve gathering, be in bed by 1:00am, wake-up and open presents with the kids by 9:00am, be showered and to my parents by 11:00am, pop over to my grandparents, swing home to drop off presents and let the dog out, go over to the in-laws and be home again — exhausted but happy — by 9:00pm. So much joy, so much family and so little inconvenience.

Moving changed that and in a heartbeat everything got harder. Alerting Santa to the change in delivery address. Dealing with pets. Taking vacation. Driving on crowded highways. Packing for a week. Wrapping presents. Cooking dishes. Buying an artificial Christmas tree for the first time since owning a house. I hadn’t thought Christmas had been easy before, but suddenly I knew better. It had been a cakewalk and I hadn’t appreciated it.

But even more than that, I took for granted the relaxed ease that come with geographic closeness. There’s an ability to just share space when you’re close that you lose when there are many miles between you. The everyday meals and everyday  stories that don’t feel special enough for a visit are fine when shared on any given Thursday across the dinner table. I remember with longing sharing a grilled chicken breast and microwaved potato with my grandfather on our everyday plates, talking with him about my day at work. I remember dropping the kids off at my mom’s for an overnight so my husband and I could go to see a movie, watching them toddle off for just another night at Nana’s. I remember sitting for an afternoon at my mother-in-law’s pool watching wet kids jump in and out, dripping on every towel. It wasn’t special then, it just was.

Those days are gone.

Now, when we are together every minute is on a clock, measured for value. Every moment is either greatness or wasted opportunity. I had a friend who had moved away from family once say that when you have fewer moments they are better moments because they are special. I understand that, but I’m not sure I agree. Maybe I am just being maudlin — reminded more than ever of relationships that are struggling and that I haven’t been able to cultivate — but it feels to me that the truly great relationships of my life are built on top of lots of regular moments shared. Not special events, but boring routine times when the comfort of just being allowed me to share my whole self with someone. Allowed them to say in return…

…yeah, I like who you are.

Being home for the holidays reminds me that I have fewer of those moments now with the people I love than I would like. It reminds me that I could do more to make the most of those moments. It reminds me that I am imperfect and I will, on occasion, waste those moments by playing Candy Crush or scrolling the neverending feed on Facebook. But, it also reminds me that it isn’t over. That every moment is an opportunity for a hug, a kind word, an unexpected visit or an out of nowhere message through Facebook. As long as I’m breathing I can make the most of moments.

So, what are you doing reading this? Go make a moment matter.

Saying Goodbye, Again

Yesterday, I said goodbye to my cat Patch. Now, I’m looking over at the corner of the sectional where we had erected a blanket tent, a warm refuge that she retreated into during her last months of life. She spent so much time there that we missed her sudden and striking decline. She was always independent, right until the end.

To understand my relationship with Patch, you need to understand how important pets have been to my husband and I as we have built our family. We are both dog and cat people, but cats were allowable in our small one-bedroom apartment and dogs were not. So, cats were it for the first year of our married life, and we took in his 16-year old childhood cat and went together to adopt a kitten.

Patch was not that kitten.

Our first kitten was Lestat, an all-black male we named after the main character in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire series. Les was a classic cuddler, both sweet and playful. He had the most endearing personality that I have ever seen in a cat, so much so that even Kitty (the elder statesman of the house) tolerated him. And then, literally out of nowhere, he was sick. He was lethargic and couldn’t be touched anywhere due to terrible pain. When he was diagnosed with feline infectious peritonitis we put a $1,000 spinal tap we couldn’t afford on our credit card, but money wasn’t going to do anything. His brief life ended in a veterinary clinic, laying in my arms.

That was 20 years ago so I remember the feelings of that day better than the details. I remember feeling appreciation for my mother who drove more than an hour into an unfamiliar place, without question, just because I had called and said I needed her. I remember feeling anger because it wasn’t fair, we had done everything right and he was just a baby. I remember feeling comforted that he wasn’t suffering anymore. And, I remember one more indescribable feeling, the feeling that comes with the harsh realization that this was what it meant to be an adult. It was the feeling of absorbing the full brunt of helplessness and somehow having enough left over to say goodbye.

I bring up Les to let you know that I was emotionally raw when barely a month later my husband picked Patch up from the shelter on his own as a surprise. He knew I was grieving for Lestat and he wanted to do something. I don’t know if I was ready, but at that point ready wasn’t really relevant. There was a kitten in my kitchen and she needed care.

When Patch came home she was a little slip of a thing that the shelter estimated was about four months old. She had been found wandering along the side of I-75, remarkably clean but with a bad case of ear mites. She was aloof and skittish, shrinking away from us whenever we picked her up or tried to pet her. We speculated that she had been abused.

She was my cat and she wanted nothing to do with me.

We focused on what we could do. We took her to the vet and got her on medication. We swabbed her ears until the mites were gone. We bought food and toys and gave her space to be her own cat. We waited patiently for her to come to us and when she did, we petted her the way she liked to be petted until she was done and walked away. Over time, I learned to love the cat she was, not the cat I wanted her to be.

She had been with us for about a year when I realized how important she had become to us. One morning as we were getting ready for work, she darted out the door, ran into the bramble behind our apartment and disappeared. We panicked, she was a tiny thing and we feared the worst. We had visions of her being attacked by a wild animal or a large dog, or of being hit by a car on the busy six lane road we lived on. We tried coaxing her back, but in the end we had to leave for work with her out there. Worried sick, neither of us were very productive that day. We weren’t ready to say goodbye.

Thankfully, when I walked in the door that night she was at the back door waiting for me. It was in my relief that I knew no matter what kind of cat she was, she was mine. As much as she could be anyone’s.

Patch was unapologetically her own cat. She was a strong and nimble creature that had the physicality to go anywhere she wanted to go, regularly jumping onto and over things that surprised us. Until the end she could still make the jump from the back of the couch to the bar counter to ask for water. She demanded running water and I remember buying the expensive filtered water dish long before we could afford such luxuries. In her last year, we gave into her demand for water right from the faucet. I’m sure there are people who find that crazy. I might have too, before she was ours.

In her later years, she mellowed out a bit. One of my favorite memories was of her laying on the sun on our back deck. She always loved the heat — the fireplace, the sunshine, an air vent, behind the tv, next to someone on the couch — but we were nervous about letting her outside. Our relief at her coming home that one day never took away the anxiousness about what could happen. But at one point we got the courage to let her outside on a warm summer day. She sniffed around a bit and settled in the strongest, warmest puddle of sunshine she could find. She lay there until she was done and then she meowed at the door. She knew she was home and didn’t need to wander anymore.

When I said goodbye to her yesterday, I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I was thinking that she had a tumor the size of a golf ball on her tiny neck. I was thinking she hadn’t eaten or used the litter box in two days. I was thinking that she rarely came out from under her blanket fort. I was thinking that she needed me to be the adult, to absorb that horrible feeling of helplessness and still have enough left to say goodbye.

In the end she was independent, but she wasn’t alone.

Graceless under Pressure

I’ve always had more energy that accuracy. It’s why I was a runner and not a gymnast, even when it was clear from early on that I wouldn’t be breaking any height records. I was athletic, but I couldn’t put together enough coordination to play any of the sports involving dexterity or bats, balls or sticks.

Between my junior and senior year in high school, I found myself in summer school for gym. Yes, there is such a thing. I was there because I had taken too many academic courses and hadn’t used enough electives to meet the gym requirement. I guess I could have used my three years of lettering in track to get an exception, but even then I wanted to follow the rules. So, I signed up for gym in summer school.

The people who take gym in summer school are an interesting bunch. Very few enjoy athletic activity and even fewer make attendance at school a regular habit. As an athlete, I regularly lapped people doing the required mile warm-up run, and I hated the mile and wasn’t even trying. On sheer physical fitness I had 99.9% of the group beat, but unfortunately for me it wasn’t just about being in shape. We also played sports.

With balls. And sticks. And racquets.

I remember, because it was a painful, pitiful experience. I wish I had had the sense of humor then that I have now about it, but then I was just resigned. Resigned to being picked last for teams, including behind a girl with a broken arm. Resigned to being the fastest to the ball, but the most incompetent when it came to fielding, throwing or hitting. Resigned to being the designated runner, which at least was useful.

I was reminded of my own gracelessness over the weekend. We got home from dinner and I came barreling out of the car, hell bent on getting into the house quickly. I ran around the car, quick powerful strides and then, *boom* I ran straight into the car door my son had just opened. The force of the hit threw me backwards and I landed on my butt on top of the snowblower.

“Damn IT!”

I popped up and continued in the house without another word. It was stupid and graceless, but so incredibly me that I couldn’t even be upset. It’s not the first time my over-energized self has run into a car door, a minivan hatch, a door jam or a desk edge. I’m just not the kind of person who slows down long enough to avoid objects in my way. And I’m not Barry Sanders, I can’t zig out of the way, either.

That’s okay. In addition to running, I bruise really well, too.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles 

My office is very close to a major international airport, so in the course of an average workday I see between 10 and 20 planes. They fly overhead as I drive on the highway and they fly past as I sit in window filled conference rooms. I thought that I had gotten to the point where they were completely routine, hardly worth noticing.

Yawn.

And then this week, as I was coming in early when it was still pitch black out, a plane flew overhead on a path perfectly aligned to the highway. I came from behind with it’s lights burning bright through the dark and the fog until I saw it like a bird, wings outspread directly above and then in front of me. The image conveyed in that single motion at that single instant was beautiful. I was stunned.

It struck me in that moment that I have lost a little bit of wonder around technology. And there is no place where technology is more ‘hum-drum’ to me than in transportation. Sure, driverless cars, drones and hovercraft still feel cool, but a plane? A car? A train?

Yawn.

But there it was, a graphic in-my-face reminder of the fact that while plane travel is routine it remains worthy of awe.

I think the problem is that transportation has become so routine that now we are able to complain about it. There was a point in human history where moving more than 10 miles away from your family meant an all day trip — young couples who chose to ‘go West’ were effectively saying good-bye forever. You couldn’t complain about bad traffic or busy routes or inconvenience — people were too worried about survival and figuring out how to build an entirely new safety network.

Now, I have a daily commute of 32 miles one way. With good traffic, I can make it door to door in 45 minutes including walking to and from my car. We can drive the 270 miles to our parents’ houses in about five hours, connected the whole way with satellite radio, DVD entertainment and safe reliable communication. There are four different public transportation methods to get back and forth, too, ranging from $30 to $250 round trip.

How awesome is that? Pretty darn awesome.

And that awesome has made me weak. When the traffic is bad I have the luxury of complaining, sitting in my safe, reliable car on a well-paved road. When a plane is delayed I have the luxury of being annoyed and anxious. When I sit on a crowded train I have the luxury of being uncomfortable, stuffed with others just like me who are also going places with agendas and purpose.

I’m thoughtful that it took a moment — a picture perfect in my windshield moment– to jar me out of my routine and remind me just how epic it is to be a human moving around the earth in 2015. I can go nearly anywhere. I can see nearly anything. And in 95% of cases it will be routine, the normal balance of predictable and inconvenient.

And that’s not boring, it’s pretty darn cool.

The Impact of Super Hotness

So, Matthew McConaughey is super hot. He’s the kind of hotness that makes a person wonder what it would be like to be around someone that good looking. Like, does it feel as surreal as I think it must?

I was watching ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’ and that thought just kept going through my mind. There’s this scene where he’s hanging out with his movie family at their home, and everyone else is normal — not bad looking, just normal — and in my head I’m thinking, what must it be like to have someone that good looking in the family? If that is your son, what in the heck do you think? Does it strike you every time you look at them? Or does it become just routine?

And here’s the rub. I think my husband is really good looking. He’s the kind of guy who is looking better and better as he gets older. He’s got the bones for ‘distinguished’ and the face for ‘weathered’ wrapped up in one — just like a great pair of leather loafers don’t look ratty as they get older, they just look right. He just looks right, like he’s always been ready to be 40-something and his age is just catching up with his body.

So, I’m not looking at Matthew with a wistfulness. I’m not longing. I am simply curious. What is it like when you are that far out of the normal range? I guess the same thing must happen with intellect, or sports ability, or any other attribute. But looks, well, that one is the most observable. Do you think Matthew’s more normal friends and family feel awkward? Do they feel stunned by him walking into a room in something as normal as a t-shirt and jeans?

I’d love to find a way to ask the question without seeming like a stalker. I am seriously curious. Even in my most outstanding qualities, I don’t feel like I am so far out of the normal range that anyone would feel like I was noteworthy. Certainly, in the looks category I am remarkably average. I am confident that even in my glamour shot moments there are no double takes happening. Since I’ve never experienced it, I really just want to know, “what is it like?”

I’m racking my brain to think of one person in my network that is smoking hot. Matthew McConaughey hot. Because now I really want to know. I’m sure that is weird, but there it is. What is it like to be so ridiculously good looking that it is an issue for everyone — even your family? How do you manage to not become a prick or a pariah or a peacock? How do you remain grounded? How do you find people who are capable of looking beyond your looks to understand the deeper person?

And, what percentage of those 1% looks people do you think manage to survive being there? What percentage end up in healthy relationships with a balanced point of view? Statistically, does it change the outcomes? Did my being average in looks increase the likelihood that I would be happy?

I bet it did.

So, I’ll give a silent thank-you to the genetic gods that made my DNA cocktail. And, if I get a chance to ask Matthew the question, I will. Or, I’ll get a big hug from him and find out if super hotness feels any different, too.

You know, for research.