Here we go again – it’s time for my annual look in the rear view mirror before I step on the gas pedal to go full speed ahead towards new adventures! Before writing this, I reviewed my previous “Look Back” posts. In 2008, my first, I wrote: “I don’t keep a diary or a calendar, so looking back is usually a challenge and a memory exercise.” Fast forward seven years…I keep both a calendar and a daily journal, so suddenly looking back gave me a much more detailed view of the year. But it made it hard to see the forest through all of the trees and somehow made it much more difficult to write this year’s review.
As I reflected on the year, the image that came to mind was a roller coaster because it was a year of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual highs and lows, thrills and agonies. This was manifested in multiple ways throughout the year. I experienced fear as my parents each suffered with illnesses and I endured my own physical pains, then relief when health returned. I enjoyed spending fun times with “distant” friends and family (those living far away, last seen long ago, or never met in person), but I felt derailed in my attempts to connect with close friends and family living nearby. Successful work projects rejuvenated me, but then came long periods of ennui. I felt frustration in the first half of the year when I was not able to speak to my far-away friend, followed by joy and inspiration from our long, frequent chats in the year’s second half. I was proud that I achieved some of my goals for the year, but deflated that I made no progress at all on others. Even the weather was more contrary than usual and joined in on the symbolic roller coaster ride with snowfall on the first day of spring and a 74-degree Christmas Eve.
But after the roller coaster ride, the lows showed me how to improve and the highs kept me smiling. And there were many things to smile about.
The year started off with a bang as I jumped back into blogging regularly. I decided to accept the challenge of writing about “52 Ancestors” – one per week – and opted to ignite creativity by following the optional prompts. In addition, I started a series highlighting postcards from an immigrant’s trip back to Germany in 1912, and I was able to do a few other posts about ideas I had been toying with for a while. This all worked out beautifully – until May. I managed to write 38 posts in the first five months, and then one (other than this one) for the rest of the year. But, despite the “temporary” blogging pause (hopefully soon to end), I was able to tell a lot of good stories in the first half of the year.
As a result of one of those stories, I found a new cousin! Nearly every year I write about new cousins that I discover or who find my blog, and I’m always amazed that there are more to find. This year it was Carol from Canada and she’s my first “trifecta” cousin: from our Czech immigrants to Poland, we are simultaneously 4th cousins (Miller surname), 6th cousins (Jirsak surname), and 7th cousins (Jelinek surname)!
I also had luck in solving a big genealogical mystery – I received a document that provided the death date for my great-great grandfather Jan Miller as well as one that confirmed the birth dates of all of his children. Another great find was the 1831 marriage record of my 3rd great-grandparents, Gabriel Ostal and Rozalia Borzejewska, which revealed their parents’ names.
My travels took me to visit “cousins” Scott and Teresa in South Carolina for a wonderful week of fun sights, relaxing moments, and great conversation. After twenty years of correspondence musing over our possible cousin connection, we finally met. And, despite the fact that we still can’t figure out if we’re related, we decided that we’re family. I also took a short but enjoyable trip with friends to Connecticut where we had a lot of fun sailing and visiting the Mystic Seaport and Aquarium. Locally, I enjoyed beautiful weather and a lot of laughter on two day trips to Island Beach State Park and spent a few nice days enjoying Philadelphia’s museums and sights.
I rediscovered the importance of creativity in my life; I made art and I was inspired by art. I organized and hosted a conference for 400 people – that’s a new experience for me. For the first time in twenty-six years I saw a Broadway show (An American in Paris) – and ‘s wonderful! My other entertainment high was seeing two Shakespeare plays (The Winter’s Tale in Staunton, VA and The Taming of the Shrew in Philadelphia) as well as one about him (Equivocation).
Live performances this year were by the Indigo Girls, Dan Wilson, Plain White T’s, and Rob Thomas. Favorite albums this year were new releases from Rob Thomas (The Great Unknown) and Kelly Clarkson (Piece by Piece), and previous releases from Sara Bareilles (The Blessed Unrest) and Matt Nathanson (Some Mad Hope and Last of the Great Pretenders). I enjoyed listening to some new singles, too, such as Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” and Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s”,
I saw more movies in the theater this year than I have in many years (only four, five if you count a special big screen showing of Charade!) but the one that I will remember the most is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. What made it memorable was the fact that I saw it with the same best friend I saw Return of the Jedi with in 1983! I was surprised at how excited I was to see it, but the music, the myth, and the returning actors all made me feel like I was a kid again, and I loved every minute of it.
Everyone who knows me knows I love to read, but even I was surprised that my tally for the year was over 80 books. One of my new favorite authors I discovered this year was David Nicholls – I read three of his four novels (Us, One Day, The Understudy) in the first six weeks of the year, and despite the large number of books I read in the months that followed, his stories stayed with me at year’s end. Other favorite novels were by Arthur Phillips, Jojo Moyes, Kate Morton, and Liane Moriarity.
2015 was a year in which I learned it’s best not to put things off, especially if it involves your health, your creativity, or your relationships. Next year I plan to put that lesson into practice. Next year my goal, to borrow a phrase from Emily Saliers’ lyrics, is to “starve the emptiness and feed the hunger.”
I only metaphorically rode a roller coaster this year, but the one image of an actual event that sums up my year happened during an August day trip to the beach with my friend Terry. The wind suddenly uprooted our beach umbrella and the pole shot between us at what seemed like twenty knots. Somehow, as it flew past, I raised my non-dominant left arm and caught it (without, I might add, spilling the drink in my right hand). We both started laughing hysterically. Without assistance, the umbrella would soon make its way to northern New Jersey, but for the moment I held on with all my might and we just laughed. It sums up my year because, despite the figurative occasional gale force wind that threatened to knock me down and sweep me away, I held on…and even laughed.
Thanks for joining me for the ride…I look forward to seeing what we discover along the way next year.