Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Reflection Questions

I am continuing in my tradition of answering these annual reflection questions. I got them from Simple Mom. You can find the full original attribution information on my 2009 responses or read my 2010 responses by clicking here.

This is always the longest post I write all year, so get a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable.

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

The single best thing that happened this year was not a thing, it was an activity.  I got to travel.  Even though much of it was within my own state, it scratched the itch.  I got to stand in all of these places and see these things.  The world is amazing.

Family Cabin at Silver Fork, CA
Bridalveil Meadow
Yosemite National Park, CA
Stinson Beach
Stinson Beach, CA
Angora Lake, CA
Brooklyn, NY
National 9/11 Memorial, NY
Times Square, NY
Palm Springs, CA
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Carmel, CA
Monterey, CA
I got to see these gorgeous places and share them with some of the most important people in my life.  Sometimes I got to see these things alone, and that was good too.  All of them moved me.  All of them made my craving to travel even stronger.

And out of all of this year's trips, my favorite one was to Lake Tahoe with my mom's family to celebrate my grandpa's 80th birthday.  I've seen Tahoe plenty of times, but spending that much time with the family was just wonderful.

There we are... Everyone (minus Kayla and Beau, they had to leave early). What a wonderful weekend with family, celebrating Grandpa's 80th.
Lake Tahoe, CA

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

The single most challenging thing that happened was also not as much of a real event as it was just a trend.  Since I'm a public school teacher and E works for the state, it was a scary year to be dependent on the state economy.  Throw in a little bit of negative public opinion about schoolteachers and the threat I might have to move schools and teach PE to keep my job, and you've got a recipe for a tough couple of months at the end of the school year.  A big band-aid got applied over the summer, but I anticipate this May will be just as ugly and upsetting.  I love my job, but it's getting tougher and tougher to do so.

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?

Photo on 2011-05-16 at 18.41

Cookie was an unexpected joy.  We had just adopted Twinkle and didn't plan on any more pets for a while.  I took her home after a woman at school rescued her.  She is a weird, wild, honeybadger of a joy.  All of the sudden, most of our pets are babies and it is insane around here.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?

Well, I didn't expect to be in school, but that's going so well I can't call it an obstacle.  But a byproduct of my MFA program is that I need a lot of alone time to read and/or write, and I am realizing how much I need (to borrow a phrase) a room of my own.  I have so much of a better understanding of how hard it was for E when he was in law school and had to leave the house all the time to study.  So I've been planning all of my writing around when I can be at Starbucks, and that's not always easy.  (Delicious, but not always easy.)  Our house (which has felt fine, size-wise, for so long) now feels too small.

5. Pick three words to describe 2011.

Filling, short, cold.

(That last one might just be influenced slightly by what seems like a ridiculously cold, dry winter.)

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2011 (don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you).

Fun, new, expensive

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2011 (again, without asking).

Focused, hard-working, satisfying

8. What were the best books you read this year?

I read 30 books this year.  That's more than last year by three times.  Most of this is because of the MFA, but I can say I am so happy I can choose my own books for that program.  And really, this was the summer of rediscovering reading.  I went through books like water.  I let myself get absorbed in books and forget about other things.  It was awesome.

Here are my favorites from 2011:

Classic, rediscovered: Jane Eyre
Could not put it down: Unbroken
Beautiful story: The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle
Laugh out loud: Bossypants
Written so well: Winter's Bone
Currently vying for best book I've ever read: The Things They Carried

9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?

In 2011, my most valuable relationship was with my daughter, Addie.  We started off the year doing Girls on the Run together, and she trained for her first 5K. She's 9 going on 16, and this feels like such an important time for her--and for our relationship.  Every once in a while the angry teenager pokes her head out and I see a glimpse of what's coming.  Overall Roo and I have a great relationship, but I can tell right now I need to keep talking to her, keep doing things with her, and keep encouraging her.  She's so hard on herself in exactly the same way that I remember being hard on myself.  I want to allow her room to grow and to figure out who she is but also I want her to know how much I like her, how proud I am of her, and how I would do anything for her.  I have a feeling this will be a lifelong goal for our relationship.

10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?

Two challenges, personally.

One: running a marathon.  I decided I was going to do this and I did it.  It wasn't hard in the way you'd think--the actual runs were just longer rather than more difficult.  But the hardest thing about it for me is exactly what it is about running, today: making the choice to step outside the door.  By far, that's the hardest part about training for a marathon.  I had to make that choice for a lot of days in a row.  Thankfully, I have a job that allows me summers off, so I was able to do the bulk of my training when I didn't have to worry about work or grading or being awesome in front of people for five hours a day.  But facing the challenge of running a marathon was incredibly satisfying.

Two: starting an MFA program in creative writing through UC Riverside.  First of all, applying to MFA programs was way harder than actually being in one.  All those deadlines and fees.  Ick.  But actually being in a program has brought a whole host of new opportunities and challenges--workload, time management, and confidence issues.  The wonderful thing is that I am so happy when I am doing the work for my program.  It's feeding a little piece of my soul to know I'm a writer and to devote so much time to that.  Again, deeply satisfying.

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

A nice part of the MFA is that I have to crawl out from my dark hole twice a year and talk to other writers.  That tries my introversion much, much, more than you can imagine, but I have to think it's good for me.  I really had to push myself when I was at residency not to withdraw from people.  It was hard, but I know that hard work is where there is usually growth.

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

I've really come to appreciate how important it is to take time to both create and be still.  I've stopped sweating the small stuff altogether.  I am convinced that God really doesn't care and that 99.9% of the time I've spent on guilt was wasted.  I've pursued happiness in the moment rather than happiness once all the hard stuff is over.  I've enjoyed the blessings that are right in my simple little life.  I grew vegetables, too.


13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?


I ran a MARATHON, people.  We should just stop talking about growth right there.  No, seriously.  Your grandma could run a marathon faster than I did.  But I did it.

And it was cool.  I'm still disappointed that more than half of it was on (unadvertised) loose gravel and my time sucked big time.  I want to run a real (read: paved) marathon sometime in the near future so I can see if it would be closer to my actual anticipated time.  I was doing so well with my training and pacing.  Oh well.  I also ran two half marathons and a 5K this year.  I tried to just accept my slowness and enjoy running.  I want it to be something that brings me peace now and something that I can continue to do through the rest of my life.  I put in a lot of hours this year toward that end.

Oh yeah, and I stretched.  I guess I needed to be doing that all along.

14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?

Last year I said I was working on accepting imperfection.  I suppose this year is an extension of that in that I am still trying to focus less on what I think should happen and just allow things and people to be as they are.  Something can be negative and I don't have to sit there and take it, but I don't have to try to change it, either.  Sometimes walking away is much more effective.

15. What was the most enjoyable area of managing your home?

I love cooking.  Particularly when I'm well rested and have time to think about what it is I want to cook in advance.

16. What was your most challenging area of home management?

I'm not going to go 3 for 3 and say laundry again, but it's related.  The most challenging area of home management for me is the couch in the front room.  Every time I get it cleaned off, it piles up again with laundry or assorted other goodies.  I hate the couch being cluttered, since it's the first thing you see when you walk into our house.  I don't feel like we can have people over if the couch is piled up.  And honestly, I'm not winning the battle.  So that's frustrating.

17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?


18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?

Reading and writing.

19. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year?

The biggest thing is a writing thing with some life application.  At residency, over and over again I heard that I needed to trust my writing more, not to sum it up at the end of a story or a vignette and tell the reader what to think.  Coming from an analytical writing background, this was completely new, but realizing it in the context of my creative writing gave me more confidence in what I was already producing.  And as far as life, I think that trusting myself to be enough is always going to be something I work on.  I feel like I got a little bit closer this year.

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2011 for you.

Make a specific goal and then go for it one step at a time.  Even if you move slowly, you'll get there.

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