Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 in Review: The Good Stuff

2016 was a rough year for a lot of people. American politics were contentious. There was unrest and violence throughout the world. Many beloved celebrities passed away. On a more personal level, many people I know were dealing with joblessness, illness, divorce, loss of family members, homelessness, and a host of other problems, great and small. But there was still a lot of good things about 2016. So as I reflect back on the year, I am consciously choosing to ignore the unpleasant events and look for the good, the positive, and the uplifting. These are some of the BEST things that happened in 2016 - some to me personally, and some more to the world at large.

We got our roof re-shingled, entirely covered by insurance, due to a prior hailstorm.Thanks to wise advice from friends, we covered everything in the attic with tarps and blankets so cleanup was easy. The workers were pleasant and efficient. We were even able to toss a few items into the dumpster that had been waiting for a convenient time to get rid of them. And the weather cooperated beautifully. 

Downton Abbey came to an end, and it was glorious. The Carson-Hughes wedding...Edith coming into her own...Tom and Sybbie's return...Mary getting all modern and sensible and, well, pleasant...the unbearable cuteness of Baxter and MolesleyThe characters were true to themselves and their time; a new era was clearly beginning; it felt complete and satisfying and right.

Home school included making candy geodes and breaking into real ones; learning to make ukha, borschcht, naan, and Costa Rican rice and beans; making and experimenting with ooblek.

Leonardo DiCaprio finally won a damn Oscar. Probably not for his finest performance, but definitely for one of his more difficult ones. 

I finally got my courage up to go see a new primary care doctor (I haven't had one in literally 25 years). She was wonderful. She listened to me. She gave me realistic advice on what I needed to be concerned about and what I could just let go if I chose to. And she didn't yell at me for not seeing a GP for 25 years. 

My son lost his first tooth, much to his relief. He lost the second a few weeks later. The two top teeth went one day apart, just before Christmas. The first of those two went during school hours, so he came home with the tooth safely tucked into a little green plastic treasure chest which is now the official tooth vessel for delivery to the Tooth Fairy. 

My dryer died and we decided to replace both the washer and dryer. We found an LG set on sale and I have been in love with doing laundry ever since. It's fast, it's quiet, and it gets everything sparkling clean. 

My stepdaughter's college cheer squad won the national championships for the third year in a row. It was BRILLIANT. Go, Pokes!

We got our first pets, a pair of fancy guppies. One of them succumbed within 24 hours. The kids were completely nonplussed, and we replaced the dead fish the next day. Fish #2 vanished a month later (we assumed she was sucked into the filter, but her wee fishy skeleton has never been found), with a similar lack of concern from the kids. Fish #3 is still alive and well nearly 8 months later.

We brought both kids and an (adult) friend to the annual Patriots' Day reenactment in Lexington. They actually paid attention. And we ran into another friend and had a great review of the history of the battle. 

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 90th birthday. Well, to be more accurate, all of Great Britain celebrated the Queen's 90th birthday. In related news, she has the most adorable group of grandchildren EVER. Especially the one holding her purse. 

I made homemade duck stock for the first time, then made risotto with it. I discovered new depths of flavor and deliciousness. 

My cousin got married and my husband and I and our kids were able not only to attend but to add on a nearly week-long vacation along the beautiful California seacoast to the trip.We spent much time with extended family, and spent several days at Disney, Universal, and other amusement parks. A wonderful time was had by all, culminating with a beautiful outdoor wedding.

My son wrote his first poem, entitled "Lost Soke":
      I can't believe
      I lost my soke
      I lookd under the chicin
      bawk!!!!!!! bok!!!!!

      I even lookd in the cloke
      tike toce tick tock!!!!!!!!!!!!

My daughter danced in her very first dance recital. Her grandmother (and great-grandmother, and numerous assorted great-aunts and distant cousins) was looking down from heaven and smiling. 

Both my kids were paid models at a professional modelling shoot. My son tolerated it but my daughter was absolutely in her glory. She had a wonderful time and I was extremely proud of how patient and obedient both of them were. 

The Tony Awards opened with the statement,"The opposite of war is not peace; it is creation." And proceeded to be fabulous. A friend's sister was nominated for a Tony award - how cool is that?!?? James Corden was a delightful host; Hamilton won, like, everything; and pregnant Audra McDonald can kick higher than 20-y/o non-pregnant me.

My stepdaughter graduated from college. It was a long road, and it took a number of unexpected turns. But she hung in there and did great, and is continuing to do great. I sometimes feel like it's not quite fair for me to be proud of her, because I haven't really had anything to do with what an amazing person she has become. I just kind of stand back and watch. But I'm proud anyway, because she IS amazing. I love what a wonderful role model she is for her younger siblings. 

We got a robot pool vacuum. Let me say that again: Robot. Pool.Vacuum. Need I say more?

Harry Potter fans were rewarded with a stage play and a published script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, as well as the release of the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Not everyone was a fan. but for those of us who were still in mourning for the end of new stories from the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling, it was enough. And enough, as they say, is as good as a feast. 

The US Treasury Secretary announced that abolitionist Harriett Tubman will appear on the $20 bill, making her the first African-American ever and the first woman in in 100 years to appear on US paper currency. 

The herb crop in my garden in summer 2016 was AMAZING. Basil, thyme, mint, chives, oregano.So happy, so delicious. 

NASA's analysis of data collected by the Kepler telescope found that 9 of the nearly 1300 planets analyzed could support life. We are now aware of the existence of 21 planets "orbiting stars in a habitable zone where surface temperatures could allow for liquid water, creating the potential for life." Wow. 

We enjoyed several outings in Boston with my niece from France who is a student at Northeastern University. I love hearing about her adventures, and my kids do, too. I hope they follow her example and have lots of international experiences while they're young. I'm so grateful for so many wonderful family role models of completely different ways to live one's life in a fulfilling and successful way, with or without a formal education! 

Love her or hate her (I'm leading the fifth on my personal opinion), Hillary Clinton receiving the nomination of the Democratic Party for the US Presidency, making her the first female nominee of a major party, was a historic, exciting, and positive moment. 

The 2016 Summer Olympics were amazing. Michael Phelps winning pretty much every medal that he was eligible for; the women's gymnastics team; the hilarious brothers on the Irish sculling team; the runner from New Zealand who stopped to help a fallen American; the adorable Chinese swimmer who could hardly believe she'd qualified then went on to win a bronze medal in the 200m backstroke; the trampoline competition. And just the glorious celebration of human accomplishment that is the Olympic Games. 

This conversation, overheard at the public library between my daughter and another little girl: 
Little girl: I'm four. How old are you?
Katie: I'm four and a half. But tomorrow I'll be five.
Little girl (with great excitement): When I'm five, I get to have GUM!!

My kids named the bunny that hangs out in our yard "Lenny." That's probably not noteworthy by most people's standards, but LENNY!! He is SUCH a Lenny. I love Lenny. 

My daughter's big sister was able to be here with us for the little one's birthday. When you're turning 5 and you ADORE your big sis, this is a big deal. A HUGE deal. 

OMG, my kids started public school. Both of them, at the same time. Like, getting on the bus in the morning and waving goodbye and vanishing and everything. I'm happy and proud and terrified and sad all at the same time. I love that they love school so much, and I'm brokenhearted that they love school so much, all at the same time. Damn, motherhood is hard. But wonderful. But hard.

I started walking several miles 3-5 days a week after the kids got on the school bus. At first, it was really tough - I was even more out of shape than I thought - but after a while it got fun. My blood pressure was down even if my weight was unaffected. And it was lots of wonderful time spent with my husband, just chatting and enjoying each other's company. 

On the 19th anniversary of her death, Mother Teresa was sainted. Probably the most universally recognized nun in history, Mother Teresa put a human face on poverty and showed us all how to humble ourselves and be servants, whether or not we were Catholics or Christians. She single-handedly changed the world for the better. 

My brother-in-law took me shooting, for the very first time. I got to try out several different types of guns. I even hit the target a bunch of times! 

We celebrated my husband's great-aunt's 90th birthday, surrounded by many family members from multiple generations. It was a celebration of not only her life, but of the many paths that members of the succeeding generations have taken. It was both a look back and a look ahead. Plus someone brought a puppy. 

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, publicly committed to giving $3 billion (yes, billion with a "B") over the next 10 years, to the cause of eradicating communicable diseases by the end of the century. Zuckerberg and Chan spent the past two years meeting with experts to discuss the feasibility of this goal. Chan's career as a pediatrician and the birth of their son, Max, no doubt have a large influence on this decision. 

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. This may seem like only a big deal to actual Cubs fans, but when the team in question has not won the World Series in over 100 years, it's a big deal for all of us. There's something exciting and satisfying about seeing the perennial underdogs finally pull it together when it counts and succeed in a big way. After all, if the Cubs can win the World Series, anything is possible!

We went to a combined concert of Take Six and the Manhattan Transfer. Front row. Eye contact. Sweating on us. Singing along. AMAZING. INCREDIBLE. Fantastic show, fantastic voices, fantastic program. One of those you'll remember for the rest of your life. Wow. 

Our church got a new pastor. He loves all the things we (both the church as a whole and our family, personally) love: music, youth ministry, community outreach. He's funny, he's humble, he's talented, he's passionate, his family is delightful, and we just plain like him. We have a lot of exciting (and probably scary, too) changes to look forward to over the next months and years as he leads us in the direction we've been trying to go. 

Scientists at Ohio State University designed a device that, once implanted in the brain, send signals to a cuff on the patient's arm which allow him to control his hands and fingers in real time, just as if his nerves were still connected. A 24-year-old patient was implanted with the device, which allowed him motor control fine enough to play Guitar Hero. Somehow it seems appropriate that the success of the device was tested by playing a video game. Kind of the circle of life. 

I wrote a play. It's just a first draft, but I wrote it in about 6 hours. It's not great; it's not even good (yet); but it's not embarrassing. For a first draft of a first play, that's not bad. Not bad at all. 

My son learned to ride a bike. Without training wheels. He'd been resisting taking the training wheels off his old bike, but when Santa brought him a brand-new bigger bike with no training wheels on it, he was willing to give it a shot. And within literally 20 minutes, he was riding the length of the entire street, with confidence and very few wobbles. To say that I was a proud mom is beyond an understatement. He met his fears head-on, and he overcame. What more could a mom want for her child?

Fans of the Star Wars series, who'd just been rewarded for their 10-year wait between movies with the 2015 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, were treated to an "extra" movie; a prequel of sorts, set in the time period just before the original 1977 film. Although some "purists" were not fans, I found it to be either an impressive example of a writer planning ahead and planting details to be used in the future (past?) or an even more impressive feat of brilliant "retroactive continuity". Either way, I thought it was fascinating. 

Our couch spontaneously disintegrated 2 weeks before we planned to host a large party. Luckily, we went to the discount warehouse of the local furniture store and found a couch and chair set that we LOVE. I hadn't realized how broken-down our old couch was until I sat on the new one and my body rejoiced. And the added benefit is that we now are almost forced to repaint the badly-in-need-of-repainting living room.

My stepdaughter came to visit for Christmas and the three kids had a complete love-fest. She got to see the four of us perform a Christmas show at the kids' school: dramatic readings of A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the kids singing "Christmas All Year 'Round", and sing-alongs of "Rudolph," "Jingle Bells," and "The 12 Days of Christmas."

I'm sure that many of this "good stuff" was not relevant to you. I'm sure that most of you don't really care that my kids got to visit with their cousins over the summer, or that I wrote a play, or about my home school lesson plans. But I'm also sure that you have personal "good stuff" that IS as exciting and positive to you as all of these personal items are to me. So I challenge each of you to try to push aside the disappointments and tragedies of 2016, both public and private, and just for a few moments, focus on all the wonderful and exciting things that happened to you and to the world around you this year. 

I bet there's more good stuff than you think. 

Happy 2017! 
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