2017 in the rear view mirror

This was a strange and difficult year in the life of the world. For good or for ill, I think we’ll remember 2017 in the history of the world. (I mean, assuming there is a history to be written and that the triumvirate of Trump/Putin/Kim Jong Il doesn’t end our species in a blast of radiation.) (These are the kinds of caveats 2017 has felt like it’s all about.) It’s been a terrifying and uncertain year for many in the wider world – especially immigrants, people of color, non-CIS folk, or anyone with pre-existing health conditions. But in the life of my family, it’s actually been an excellent year, despite the background fear, anxiety and attendance at protests.

Here are the big things that went on in my family this year.

Lastours

We went to Europe.
This was the kind of trip you fantasize about and remember your whole life. We spent time in Barcelona wandering the narrow alleys, we took the train to Carcassonne. We ate cassoulet in the cooling evening in the shadow of an impenetrable fortress built on Roman walls. We found a local guide who brought us to the fastness of Lastours and guided us across the narrow chasm into the ancient, tiny town of Minerve which we’d visited last in a fantastic Cthulu game run by my husband. It was exceptional – the whole thing. The kids were great. The weather was hot hot hot. The history was amazing. I loved every minute of it.

Eclipse

The kids watched the eclipse.
As part of what must be one of the best summers of their lives, the kids did a cross country road trip with their grandparents and cousins and got to see an unobscured totality from the middle of Idaho. It was hard to fit it in between their weeks at Camp Wilmot (they want to go back for three weeks next summer!), tubing with friends, boating camp, and camping trips, but their sacrifices were duly noted. Truly, this summer was epic.

Our last night together

We said goodbye and hello to friends and neighbors.
Looking through my year in pictures, I was struck at how so many in the spring and early summer included our dear and loved neighbors. (I think we had about 12 goodbye parties.) And then how empty the spot felt in the summer. We miss you folks every day, and twice on Saturdays. But our new neighbors, while not the same, are pretty awesome in their own rights. It’s been a sort of generational shift in our little street. I can’t help but feel lucky to have not one, but two generations of awesome neighbors!

Our 17th anniversary

Adam and I had great years at work.
It was a very strong year, professionally. I had a huge (internal) project exceed all my expectations for success in March. It might be the most successful, amazing thing I’ve ever done at work. (And all the more so for being surprising in the process!) Adam made a huge difference in his job, and then was lucky enough to get a new role at a fantastic company where he’s getting to code more and learn a whole new programming language. In the waning hours of the year, I’ve also gotten great news about getting to transfer to a new team I’m super excited about within Alphabet. I do try to keep work and home life separate, but obviously work is a huge part of one’s actual life. For both of us, it’s been an intense year but with good results.

We hired a pastor
This was a huge part of my year. I spent so much time, effort, passion and energy on this search. I learned a lot. I prayed a lot. I felt a full range of human emotions. I got to know people very well. It’s not *quite* over yet, but we’re nearing the end. I’m very weary, so looking for how to recharge these batteries.

Dear friends on cold days

It was a Francophone year
In addition to our time in France, we also visited friends in Quebec City and took a lovely long weekend trip to New Orleans. One of these was very cold and one of them was very hot. Both of them were very fun.

Victorious Views!

I finally climbed Chocorua.
I’ve been passionately wanting to do this for a very long time, but it was a hard one to get done. This year was the year though! It was everything I’d been hoping. I had great company. I am not sure I’ve ever used my body that hard. The weather was excellent. The lodgings close and comfy. I loved it so much.

A few other highlights –
We worked with Fealty Design to create a family crest, which I have been LOVING. I think I managed to include it four times on this year’s Christmas cards.
We bought a new car
We practiced civic engagement, on both a local and larger level
I completed the two year project of listening to all of the Wheel of Time on audiobook
We went camping, but only twice. I’m still regretting bailing on the third time.
The children have both been thriving at school. It’s been an excellent year for both of them, with mental, physical and emotional health.

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2016 retrospective

I had a very productive close to the year – lots of important work got done on both the home front and the work front. But I didn’t get around to writing my “Christmas letter” blog before the calendar flipped over to a prime number. So in this last day before the real world whirs back up to it’s usual frenetic pace, here’s a look back at the year I had.

2016 was a hard, hard year for many people around me. The loss of seminal artists to our generation was heavy and unrelenting. The division along political lines was hurtful and scary to many. The sense that we’re all in this together fractured. It may never have been true, but it now certainly does not feel true. The future feels unusually unknown and uncertain. Some of the tragedies felt extra close to home to me. Our pastor died of brain cancer. A firefighter was killed on my street when he and a buddy were goofing off with a gun. I watched the ambulances and fire trucks pass. A colleague of mine was brutally murdered. The killer remains at large.

But most of the sorrows and tragedies of the world happened outside my home, my friends, my family. And many of them are tragedies in potentia (obviously not all). It’s fear, not yet fact. So we’ll work to prevent those fears from coming true. And on the whole, 2016 was a good year for me and for my family.

Johnstones in Yosemite
Johnstones in Yosemite

The first big milestone of the year came in February, when my grandmother died after a long and loved life. My family has an odd (and I think healthy) attitude towards death. While we miss grandma, her time had come. If ever anyone had the hope of the resurrection in God’s time, she would. I’ve known very few people of such faith as she was. So when we came together for her funeral, we didn’t mourn as much as we celebrated. I was reminded what a neat family I’m so lucky to have. Does everyone have a blast at a funeral? I sure did! I also got to sneak in my “West Coast Mountain” fix. I had a conference in LA the same week, and got to spend some time in Yosemite with my family, take a weekend to myself in Sequoia (a new one for me!). It was pretty glorious.

Adam had a big year. When I was pregnant with Thane, he started a new job. (I remember particularly because he renovated “the nursery” in his 2 weeks off between the jobs.) Thane is in second grade, and Adam just switched to a company. (The company is curing cancer. He’s writing internal systems for it. I’m trying to convince him that basically means he’s curing cancer!) This has had a huge impact on our family. The work is much faster-paced and intense, and he’s learning a lot. On the personal front, he’s been doing a lot more with wood-working. Ask him about the joint-cutting work he’s doing! For someone who works mostly with their mind, producing something you can feel and touch is intensely satisfying!

Adam and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary this year. It also marks 20 years that we’ve been “an item”. We celebrated by going to Ashland Oregon and catching the Shakespeare Festival. Highlights included Timon of Athens and the Japanese Spa.

Crazy, and awesome
Crazy, and awesome

The boys are crazy. And awesome. Or maybe crazy awesome. Something like that. Grey started Middle School this year. (I KNOW. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN!) He’s doing very well, although still working on the concept of just how badly a 0 for not turning in your homework affects your GPA. (I totally support learning this lesson in 5th grade, when it really does feel like just practice.) The Middle School transition has gone more easily than I expected, frankly!

Thane is in Second Grade and doing a good job there. He’s funny and independent and incredibly loving. Also, his penmanship has improved remarkably. He still enjoys math, although he’s declined to take extra classes to learn more. He reads a lot (mostly at school when he’s supposed to do other things). He’s revisited some prior loves – namely Legos and Scooby Doo.

My kid in a nutshell
My kid in a nutshell

We’ve switched up our childcare situation. After YEARS of going to the Stoneham Y, we switched to a different afterschool situation. The kids have a little more autonomy there, and it’s awesome, but it’s also a lot less controlled. It’s been going really well so far! It feels like a huge deal in the daily life of the family, and like a marker in the “wow, they’re really growing up aren’t they?” page. One change is that childcare isn’t available for the break weeks – like winter break, Feb break and April break. We just worked from home this last week (or took the kids into the office!). We’ll ship them out to Washington in February, and import Meme for the April break!

Christmas Eve Congregation
Christmas Eve Congregation

This was a huge and hard year in the life of my church. Last Christmas Eve was the last time our Interim Minister worshiped with us. We’re coming up on the 1 year anniversary of his diagnosis with glioblastoma. He was gone by Easter. We scrambled to keep things running, and I’m proud of how well we have stuck together. We finished the Mission Study (a process I ran). We finally have started the Pastor Nominating Committee (which I’m chairing). I’m also on Session (our leadership board) right now. Adam is chairing Trustees (the “let’s keep the building and finances in one piece” group). It’s a lot of work in a hard time for the congregation. But it’s meaningful work, and it’s with people I care deeply about.

Still a very serious person
Still a very serious person

For me, this was a good year. I am still obnoxiously happy with my job. I got to travel all over the place this year (which actually gets pretty tiring after a while). I went to Madrid, Chicago, Houston and LA. I am pretty sure I went more places, but I can’t remember them. I’ve continued my faithful once-a-week updating of this blog (although the readership has declined prodigiously, which makes me sad). A new thing for me this year was running. I started running in April, and have gone on 44 runs since then totaling 113 miles. I generally run about a 5k on my runs. I’m slow, but it’s one small fight against entropy.

We have continued many of the rich and wonderful things we usually do. We went camping 3 times this year. We hosted Piemas and Mocksgiving, and added in Flynns Fiery Feast as the third event of the year. We played tons of board games at 9 pm when the kids were finally in bed. We went on hikes. We watched movies. We took trips and had adventures. We visited Quebec City in April, spent Thanksgiving hitting museums in DC, and took the boys to their first gaming convention. We played Pokemon Go. We spent time with our neighbors, fund-raised for a service dog, and stuffed Easter Eggs together around the fireplace. We learned we loved roller coasters and that the kids have absolutely 0 fear of heights.

It was a joyful year. I can only hope that 2017 is also a joyful year – not just for my family, but for yours. May our worst fears evaporate and our greatest hopes come to pass. May the next year find us more peaceful, more joyful and with a bounty of love and sufficiency spread across all humanity!


Here’s a highlight album of some of my favorite pictures from 2016!

Heaving a great sigh of contentment

I think of myself as a generally happy person. My life is a good one: I have family, work, faith, joy, hope and a pot of tea at my elbow. As I was reading the updates that I last posted back from 2004, though, nearly every one was super stressed. (I’m not posting all of them, I’m only posting the good ones, which is about 1/20.) My friends seem to be the same way. I could swear one or two of them start nearly every post with the thesis “Today is not going well”.

I’m currently reading The Happiness Project on my husband’s Kindle, and at some point while talking about relationships, she says that it takes something like 5 positive interactions to “erase” the effects of one negative interaction. So even if you talk 50/50 sad/happy, you will come across as sad. However, when you live life against a backdrop of love, comfort and sufficiency, the exceptional elements of your day are LIKELY to be bad. I live such a rich and joyful life that most of the surprises will almost by definition HAVE to be negative — there’s not much up to go!

So I wanted to take a moment to appreciate the fact that I’m exceptionally happy right now, both in the “right this minute” and the “generally” sense. As far as “right this minute”? I’m on day 1.5 of my 2 week sojourn in relaxedness. I spent the morning very productively doing errands and chores that needed to be done. I got up on time and without whining (which hopefully made the morning more pleasant for my long-suffering husband). I got the boys ready and out the door and to their appropriate locations. I dropped off two huge bags of clothes for charity, bought an outrageous amount of cat food and dropped off a stool sample (4 months late). Then I came home, walked to the post office, bleached the comforter, folded the church tablecloths, cleaned off the porch, potted a plant, adjusted some furniture in the attic, vacuumed and steam cleaned the carpet in the entry way, and cleaned up the “for yardsale/charity” section in the basement, pulling out four MORE bags of clothes to be given away. My productivity was rewarded with a tuna sandwich.

Then I came up to my bedroom, which is just lovely in the noonday light with the purple walls. I have the new reading chair my MIL bought me, which is very comfy. I have created a section of the room where I can sit and read or write. I think that with my new job, this will be my blogging-spot, possibly in the waning hours of the evening. (Up until now, we haven’t ever had any of our computers in our bedroom. We have an office. I hesitated, because I know it’s not great for sleeping, but since I’m hardly ever insomniac, I figured I’d give it a try. Plus, it can all be out of sight.) I have a pot of flowering tea on my night stand, a beautiful tea cup and a bowl full of sugar cubes. I have a book, and an “Excellent” connection to my wifi, which I just used to spend 20 minutes looking up information on Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs. (Did you know he was an opera singer? And was raised Presbyterian?) I have nowhere I have to be and nothing I must do until daycare pickup tonight, although I hope for another bout of productivity towards the end of the afternoon.

In general terms, it’s just a great life. I was doing something the other day, and thinking that it would be more fun to do if my husband was there. How awesome is it that after 10 years of marriage and 14 together (ok, almost) I still just long to be with my husband? And that he wants to be with me? And the boys are awesome. Last night I sat on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and my eldest son, and we watched the first half of the Superbowl together. I explained why all New England Patriots fans can’t stand Payton Manning and who the quarterback is and we watched The Who and he cuddled into me. He showers me with kisses, and “Grey attack!”s me with hugs. He tells me he loves me. Thane, I discovered, is also pushing through a molar. This took me by surprise because he hasn’t gotten his canines yet, and usually they come first. This might be why he’s been cranky recently, in addition to ear surgery. But this has expressed itself as the desire to be held. He’ll lay his head on my shoulder, arms around my neck, and lie contented and still, curls tickling my mouth. They both get the hiccups when they laugh too hard.

And I thought, as I cleaned the carpets this morning, I really like my house. It’s more than big enough. The floor plan is super-practical. It’s comfortable, and has the feel of a home. It’s strong and sturdy. It has reasons it needs us — for example whose brilliant idea was it to carpet the entryway! But it really feels like home. And I like my town, and my church family is just a great joy.

I know how richly blessed I am. I know that the future will hold different things than the present. But right here, right now, life is full of joy.