Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: A Year in Review

During a conversation with one of the bankers on my team, I heard about a traditional Jewish holiday in which the individual spends the day praying. It wasn't anything ground breaking, most religions have some type of holiday devoted to inner reflection and asking for help from a higher power, but I remember this conversation because of a belief he mentioned. The day's purpose was to prove worthiness and the activities of that day would supposedly determine how the next year went for the person. I am sorry that I don't remember more details of which holiday, but I pay attention to the holidays of other religions as much as I pay to the holidays of the religion I was raised on. After describing the day, he mentioned that he isn't sure if he believes that the day actually determines how his year goes, or if it is psychological, meaning he chooses to see the year as positive or negative overall. It is similar to an optimist or pessimist looking at the same scenario and determining how full the glass is.

In reflecting on 2007, I cannot determine if this was a good year or a bad year. If I read this site as of late, I'd say it was a terrible year. But my natural instinct is to review the entire year as a good one. That could just be the optimist in me (I've been accused of always seeing the bright side), but I am starting to understand that in whole, the year wasn't that bad. In fact, there were some awesome moments to hold onto and cherish.

Before I jump too much into my "Year in Review," I do have to mention one of the coolest things I've ever heard. Coca~Cola, my lifelong addiction, understands the draw of its consumers to need it's product at all times. So, to help Jews get their fix during Passover, there is a version of Coca~Cola released that is made from pure cane sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. I guess there are varying levels of kosher and during Passover, HFCS does not pass. Which means, besides the cocaine, it is the closest version of the original Coca~Cola made. I am going to find some of this during Passover because I have to try it!

A semi-tradition, DM and I started 2007 together at Perkins, playing a game we have deemed, "Ask the iPod." It is a silly game, but it entertains us. The game consists of my iPod, filled with 3,000+ song titles, and whatever silly question we can ask about the future. We have turned my portable music collection into a Magic 8 Ball or fortune teller. The funny part is the meanings we make up when the iPod gives an answer such as, "Drift Away," for the question, "What will happen in August of next year?" Knowing us, it would create an image of a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn raft slowly floating down the Mighty Mississippi and we'd imagine that the song title implies we'll end up in New Orleans by December.

I say it is a silly game because the "predictions" have yet to come true. The iPod is a wonderful device, but fortune teller it is not. Yet, we still laugh, and in the hopes of gaining blogging material, we write down all the responses. We'll spend two hours doing this, until the battery is completely drained and the shuffle feature no longer produces funny answers. But it helps us start the year with laughter and friends. As for starting 2008, I have no idea if the iPod will be used to make predictions. Instead, I know I will be at James's house, celebrating the calendar change with friends and semi-strangers. DM may be there, I hope she is, but that depends on how she feels. I hope that she is feeling good enough to go out for a night, because tonight will be a fun night, a special night. And it is always better to ring in the new year with great friends.

With that said, I would like to review 2007, exploring the events of the year to see how I've changed, where I've grown, and what I've experienced. The year started with strong feelings of love. In January, I was still on top of the world, excited by correspondence with Andriy, that one that got away so many years before. I recognize now how futile those hopes are, but what can one do? When you love someone, it is hard to ignore how happy you can be with a simple hello, a brief message of kindness. It is a recurring pattern in my life, that at this point I can say with plausible deniablity, that wouldn't recur if I opened an email to find a note from him. I should know better, but it doesn't help. When the year started, I had received a recent note from him, which throws all the doors to memories open in my mind. There is a saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Absence views memories with rose-colored glasses, ignoring the not-so-perfect parts. I'm not saying that Andriy's visit, back in 1998, was filled with not-so-perfect parts, but that when I hear from him, my heart does grow fonder, longing for him in my life. I still love him, I always will in some way, but absence makes the pain dull. Without correspondence, I can gently shut the doors to memories, leaving them stored for the next time I need to remember. The hardest door to shut is always the one to the memory of his departure. I always remember being at the airport, wearing sunglasses inside because my eyes kept tearing up. The image of him, waiting for the last possible moment to board the plane, standing there, freshly shaven, leaning over and taking my face in his hands, moving his thumb over my jaw line as he gently kissed my cheek, saying goodbye, and boarding the plane, walking down the hallway to the plane, getting to the L in the walkway and turning back, for one last look, and waving with a sad smile and tears in his eyes, just about kills me every time. I don't know how I didn't fall to the ground, screaming, but somehow I managed to make it to the window and watched as his plane taxied to the runway. Silent tears flowing down my cheeks, understanding, but not wanting to believe, that this would most likely be the last time I ever saw him. In January, that is the memory that kept coming back, almost as a regret that I didn't do more to keep him nearby. As the days passed and no new correspondence arrived, I was able to shut some doors back up, but that final one stays open, just a crack.

At the end of January, my workload changed significantly. This helped keep my mind off of Andriy, and helped me enter February with a new purpose. A new program was going to be tried, and I spent the end of January, all of February, and the beginning of March training a new employee on an individual basis. This took me away from my team 20 hours a week, which was hard, but also helped by providing one of the best employees I've ever had. The effort involved was completely worth it and I'm thrilled with this employee. She is truly great, in all areas, for the team. Besides wonderful performance, she is an integral part of our team, driving others to greatness, always recognizing her peers, and promoting a team work atmosphere in a job that can easily be seen as individualistic. While it was time-consuming at the beginning, it has had an amazing payoff.

Also in February, I had concerns with family life. My mom had a hip-replacement surgery in February caused by severe arthritis in her right hip. There was worry during the surgery, relief after she made it through the operation, and then visiting her in the nursing home that she spent a week after the surgery. For Mom, this was the low point of her year. It was hard to see her in the nursing home, recovering. She was able to return home after a week, and spent the next six weeks at home, mostly in bed. I would visit on Mondays and we'd play Trivial Pursuit and watching television. The good thing is that the replacement surgery went well, she is up and walking around now, able to do more activities than before the surgery and without pain. It also started me going to her house every Monday, which allows me a wonderfully home cooked meal, time spent with the pets, and being able to connect with my mom. Our relationship is stronger than it ever has been and I'm grateful of the time I get to spend with her. It is absolutely wonderful.

In March, I kept going to my dad's on Sundays, my mom's on Mondays, and karaoke was still the activity of the week. DM turned 40 this past March, which was celebrated by going to the opera, eating a meal at Manny's, and having her mother visit. We had a great weekend of scrapbooking, pictures were taken, and we were able to enjoy a typical Sunday night at karaoke. Well, typical in the fact that we were at the Chalet, singing and laughing. But there were some extra special moments of birthday celebration for DM, including presents.

April and May were both fairly uneventful. Patterns of my week were set, and I spent a lot of my time dealing with a couple of employees that made trips to HR's office frequent. The good news is that I'm not dealing with that anymore, but it was stressful. To de-stress, a manager's meeting was called at Manny's by Liz. Adding James into the mix, the three of us went to have a good meal and talk manager talk. It is helpful to have friends who are managers in different fields because we can swap stories and tactics. It just works well.

In June, I did something I've never done before. Since DM ditched me this past year for vacation to go to Wisconsin with Keem, I decided to take a trip by myself. It was a simple trip, exploring Minnesota. I spent a lot of time in my car alone, driving and thinking about life. I also went on my first tour of a cave, saw the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and almost died in a hail storm on Lake Itasca. Okay, I didn't even get hurt, but being surrounded by noisy, irritating children, having the boat pummelled by grape-sized hail, and accepting a ride in a stranger's car were all life-or-death situations. But it all turned out well. Plus, I got to play with my new camera and loved the results.

July was uneventful, mostly dealing with work and going to karaoke. If I had realized at the beginning of July that our Sunday karaoke days were coming to an end, I might have appreciated them more. But with weird Scottish Craig trying to sit on top of me each week, I guess the memories are tainted. Now that karaoke doesn't happen on Sundays, the nights are filled with occasional scrapbooking, occasional going out with Liz and James, or sometimes a meal at Perkins. But even the nights at Perkins are infrequent on Sundays, for fear of running into Craig or his friend, another oddity called John. July did also allow another trip to Manny's to celebrate Liz's birthday. I do look forward to our different birthdays!

August brought a trip to Waupun, Wisconsin with DM. It was the second year we've made this trip, visiting with my mom, Scott, my aunt Cheryl, my uncle Tim, my cousin Ellen, my cousin Brad, and Brad's girlfriend Jackie. We had a great time, laughing with my family, sitting around a campfire, and playing games. It is a nice time and hopefully we'll get to do it again this year. It is just a weekend, but a fun weekend.

September was probably the best month of the year, and also the worst. On the work front, it noted the start of a difficult time. That difficult time is a large reason why my writing is so infrequent. There is a bit of fear in posting any details of the time and so, being wiser, I have not written anything. All I can say now is that the issue has minimized and I don't have to worry about it anymore. Which is good, because it was a bad time. But on a positive note, September was awesome. I went on a road trip with my mom. I was able to see places I've never seen before, and I was able to spend a wonderful week with my mom. I've written loads about that trip here, posting picture after picture. It was a week I'll never forget and we are already talking about our next trip. My mom said, at Christmas, "This has been quite the year. I spent the beginning of it in a nursing home and I was able to go drinking on Beale Street." We explored St. Louis, both of us mustering up enough courage to enter the Arch. Big, scary bridges were crossed back and forth across the Mississippi River, and we both cried at the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. We have a shared story of the Sizemores, a couple we met while driving through the Ozark Mountains. We've both been to Graceland now and the memories are wonderful.

In September, I also went to my 10-year high school reunion. Besides the fact that I got to see Liese and Bruce, and the fact that James was kind enough to accompany me, I know I won't go to another reunion. Class reunions are interesting things - forcing people to talk with one another when besides the diploma, most have little to share in experiences. I'm not saying high school was a bad time for me, quite the opposite in fact, but I don't feel a need to relive it with a bunch of strangers. Oh well. It was just one night.

In October, I took another week off of work. During that week, I relaxed at home, went to Manny's with my mom, Scott, DM, and Liz to celebrate my 29th birthday, and DM came over for the weekend to scrapbook. It was a pleasant week, filled with friends and family. It has become my tradition to take a week off of work in October each year. I had hoped for a trip to South Dakota for the first part of that week, but with DM's diabetes claiming most of her vacation time in 2007, that has been postponed. It was still a wonderful week and the shining point of the month. Work was stressful and great, filled with ups and downs that I'll not visit here.

In November, I had a few scrapping weekends with DM, a visit to my grandparents house for Thanksgiving, and another Thanksgiving meal at Dad's. The second meal involved a garlic injected turkey (oh, yum!), my mom, my dad, Scott, and DM. After the meal, we sat at the table, sharing stories and laughing. There was happiness in the room and I found myself thankful for having parents that still get along even though the marriage didn't last. It is great to see my mom so happy with Scott and knowing that my dad is happy in his life.

December, as always, was a busy month. End of the year work was required for my job, including writing reviews, planning for 2008, and spending the last of the budget. Work got fun in December, with the problem from the previous months being moved away. In an attempt to use up more of my vacation time (I get six weeks a year and can carry over up to one week, so I had seven weeks of vacation time to take. I managed six and will carry over another week for 2008), I took yet another week off. During that week, I went to my mom's house three times to bake cookies and watch movies. I also did a little shopping, slept late, and managed to plan about 4 hours of activity every night. My mom, Scott, my dad, DM, and I all went to Benihana's one evening for dinner, which was good once we got past the fact the restaurant was freezing.

As the holiday approached, I did some last minute shopping. On Christmas Eve, I went to Mom's house again, this time to watch two holiday movies and stay up until midnight, talking with her. On Tuesday, Christmas Day, I headed back over to her place around 5 pm. Dad joined us and we ate a wonderful meal of Swedish pancakes (which are to die for). We opened gifts, everyone receiving something they loved. I got a new lens for my camera, which I can't wait to try out on vacation. My mom received her gifts, but reacted in a way I wasn't expecting to the book I made for her. She opened the package, finding the book, "Bridges of the Mississippi River," and noted that the person who went had that same light burnt out on the Memphis bridge as when we were there. Then she realized that it was a book that I had made and cried uncontrollably for 20 minutes! She loves the book and has looked through it over and over. I wasn't expecting that strong of a reaction, but it ended up pretty good. After presents, we all spoke for awhile, and then Dad went home. I stayed a little longer, playing a game with Mom and just talking. While I can't remember a Christmas that was bad, this was a wonderful day and I'm trying to remember it for always.

Seven hours to go and the new year will be upon us in the Central Time Zone. I've got to get to Mom's now for a Monday night dinner and then pick up DM (hopefully) for a party at James's house. My New Year's Resolution is to not let work bog me down and devote some more time to the blogosphere. I know I have over 200 posts to read, according to bloglines, and I plan on being around this week to read and to comment. Best wishes for a Happy New Year and I look forward to all the great stories of 2008. I guess 2007 was a pretty great year and I hope that 2008 brings more fun, laughter, and experiences to all.