2017: A Look Back

In my first year of blogging, on New Year’s Eve I took my first look back at the year 2008. Tonight is my tenth look in the review mirror at my own year. I have come to enjoy this tradition. I sometimes dread the thought of summing up an entire year’s worth of experiences in about a thousand words, yet I relish the process I use to really review what I experienced and what I learned. Both the good and bad all gets mixed up into one unique recipe that is that year and no other.

One year ago, I was ardently, anxiously, and desperately waiting for 2017 to begin. I needed something new after the difficulties of 2016, and I hoped I’d find it. Oddly, I found something new in the same old – the same job, family, friends, and hobbies that I always had. I discovered the freedom of acceptance and enjoyed (mostly) everything about the year I “turned” 50.

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Ancestral church in Wilczyn (St. Ursula’s)

As this is a genealogy blog, I always begin with reviewing my genealogical finds. Surprisingly, there’s no end to discoveries even after all these years. This year I traveled back to Poland and visited thirteen different ancestral towns. They ranged from small villages to large cities, from wielkopolska (Greater Poland) to mazowieckie (Mazovia). In most of these places, the only thing remaining from my ancestors’ days was the parish church, but I enjoyed the experience of just being there. When I first visited Auschwitz in 2001, I had no idea that one of my cousins died there. This time, I proudly told his story to my fellow pilgrims and was shocked when I realized that I’d be there on the 75th anniversary of his death.

One of my big genealogical mysteries was solved rather easily. I was never able to find the birth record of my great-great grandfather, Wawrzyniec (Lawrence) Zawodny. Despite the evidence that had been right in front of me for years, it took the help of another to discover that I couldn’t find it because it didn’t exist – Zawodny was his stepfather’s surname and Wawrzyniec’s birth record is under his actual surname, Ratajczyk.

My blogging lagged once again except for an unusual flurry of posts in August, but despite another “break” I’m happy with the posts I did write this year. I am still finding new cousins from my Czech-Polish line all over the world! Offline, I organized the information on one grandparent’s line, and I sorted through DNA matches to discover new cousins.

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Not my birthday cake, but Pope St. John Paul II’s favorite cake, kremowka, in his hometown of Wadowice, Poland.

It was a year of several big family milestones and personal anniversaries. The biggest event, at least for me, was my birthday – a half century is something to celebrate! Other significant personal anniversaries included fifteen years of home ownership and 25 years on the job. Smaller, yet still significant to me, was passing the 1,000th day of daily journaling (today is Day #1,218)! In my family, my youngest nephew celebrated his First Communion and the elder hit double digits. My youngest niece grew much closer to my height, and my oldest niece not only graduated college, but also got a great job in the real world of “adulting.”

I feel fortunate that I got to do a few things and visit a few places for the very first time. On my trip to Poland, I had been to several of the sites on a prior trip. But I was able to visit the beautiful towns of Gdańsk and Zakopane for the first time and dip my toes into the Baltic Sea. More importantly, I got to finally meet a long-time Polish friend in person, meet two Polish genealogists I’ve known a long time, and spend time in that beautiful country with two of my best friends. Another first time visit was to Williamsburg, Virginia, and some new experiences included seeing the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra and the Harlem Globetrotters (with my niece and nephews, of course, but I have wanted to see them since I was 12 years old!).

It was a good year for entertainment with plays (sadly, only one Shakespeare), musicals (Finding Neverland was my favorite), and concerts. My favorite movies that I watched at home were Hidden Figures and Lincoln. In the movie theater, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Wonder Woman, was not at all surprised that I was once again enthralled by Kenneth Branagh, and very surprised by how disappointed I was by The Last Jedi.

On television, the usual occurrence – a favorite show got cancelled – followed by an absolute first a few days later – it was uncancelled! Timeless lives on! Sadly, my new favorite Will did not survive, but I loved its energy, actors, character development, pro-Catholic angle, and inclusion of Robert Southwell as a character.

Of the more than 70 books I read, three stuck out that are the types of novels I usually like to read: Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson, Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett, and Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland. But I picked up some random selections at the library – things I may have normally overlooked, and they turned out to be memorable because of the characters or the story: The Reminders by Val Emmich, Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson, and The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl. The book that most impressed me this year was non-fiction: A Pope and a President by Paul Kengor.

For music I mostly listened to old favorites, but some of those old favorites had new recordings. Dan Wilson’s Re-Covered and Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life were great albums, while Hanson’s “I Was Born” and Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” (and the Piano Guys’ cover of it) stuck in my head.

In the recipe that became 2017, I subtracted a misguided hope that caused me pain and added more of the interaction and activities that make me feel fully alive. I discovered what worked for me this year (acceptance, a positive attitude, more prayer, and making time for fun or inspiring things) and what needs more work next year (not enough time with people I love and definitely not enough exercise).

I love the juxtapositions and the paradoxes and the serendipities that every year brings. It’s always the same old, yet always new. I embraced everything that 2017 offered, or at least tried to. I lived the big, shiny events and lived the dull, daily routine. I planned and hosted a conference for 700 people, yet couldn’t figure out what to make for dinner on most nights. I re-connected with an old friend and made a few new ones while trying to forget about the friendships that faded away.

I thought there was room for something in my life that I thought I needed. There wasn’t. There isn’t. Only when it was gone did I discover that sometimes you already have enough. Who I am is, strangely, enough.  And that’s all that matters.

May 2018 bring you peace, joy, and love!

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