Top Ten of Jen

The year’s end is always filled with a host of Top Ten Lists. Top Ten Movies. Top Ten Vacations You Must Take Before You Die. Top Ten Bad Reality Shows You Really Need to Watch. Top Ten Celebrity Mugshots. So my Top Ten list is a day late…but it’s still worthy of review.

The Year 2010 has been fun to reflect upon. That is not to say that the whole year was fun. It wasn’t. Like any year, it had its ups and downs. But mostly ups, and in no particular order, here are the ten things I remember and cherish most about this past year:

1) Moved on. Almost two years ago now, I had a professional dream dashed. I had “grown up” at a non-profit agency that I treated like my baby. I loved that place. I nurtured it. I worked my ass off for it. I made it my own. I believed with all my heart that one day, and for many days to follow, I would lead that agency. But then something happened. Our Board of Directors made a decision to merge with another company. I went with it at first, but the fit just wasn’t right. Without assigning blame, I will simply say that I lost my bearing. Not only did I leave in 2009, I left with a broken heart. And it took me a really long time to get over it, because things didn’t work out as I had planned. But you know what? I did get over it. I have a totally kick ass job, that is the same in some ways but also really different, and I have learned a gazillion new things that I never would have learned at the old job. I am grateful. Finally.

2) Spent a day honoring Honest Abe. That’s right–Abe Lincoln. My sister Jess is a huge fan. She dreams of stovepipe hats and log cabins. So this year, Jess and I took the day off on Abe’s birthday and celebrated it right. We drove to the Land of Lincoln and engaged in some good old fashioned consumerism at Ikea. We carried around an Abe Lincoln figurine with us everywhere and laughed about it. We ate at Steak n’ Shake–no relevance to Abe but we just like it. Then we went to the Admirals game, where we got Abe Lincoln bobbleheads and did fist bumps with someone dressed up as Abe Lincoln. It was a really fun day. It was ordinary stuff with a twist. And it is those ordinary days with a twist that are really what life is all about. I have the best sister in the world, and I want everyone to know it.

3) Got into teaching. So this actually started in late 2009, but I furthered my teaching gig in 2010. This just in–teaching is hard! It takes a lot of preparation and a whole lot of energy to pull it off well. But I absolutely love it. It has helped me fulfill a promise I made when I got my own graduate degree to help inspire more young people to see the joy and importance of working in the mental health field. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. That’s how much I like it.

4) Went to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. So I was there on business, but what good is a business trip without a little fun too? I wasn’t prepared for how emotional the National Archives would make me. The Declaration of Independence. The Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation. All right there for us to see. All that history. All that love, and sacrifice, and hard work. I am so lucky to live in this country, flawed though it may be. I was reminded, and happily so.

5) Saw a friend fall from grace. My very long-time friend and mentor recruited me to come work for Milwaukee County in 2009. Then, during a highly political year, the winds changed suddenly and he made a difficult decision to step down from his job in August of this year. In short, it sucked. I mean like it really, really, really sucked. A lot. I stood by this friend and did my best to walk with him through the valley. I never stopped believing in him and I never will. And as a true homage to him and his brilliance, I picked up the pieces, waded through the rubble and regained my focus at work. His legacy will live on for a very long time, and I will make sure of it.

6) Saw another friend arrive where she belongs. Not everybody has a friendship that has endured their whole lifetime, but I do. OK, so I didn’t meet Mindy until I was 5. But in all fairness, I don’t remember a whole lot about my first five years. (Dropped a rock on my toe, had my bicycle stolen, got a puppy. Yep, that’s about all I remember.) I met Mindy in kindergarten and we went to school together all the way up through college. We weren’t best friends all those years, but we have been for many of them and the history speaks for itself. We have seen each other through a lot, and laughed at the absurdity of it all every step of the way. We have made a lot of bad decisions (bad decisions are my favorite!) and sometimes we made them together. On Christmas Eve, I got to see Mindy marry a fantastic guy who loves her and her boys in all the ways they deserve. It’s awesome, and it warms the cockles of my heart. (Yes, I said cockles).

6) Fell for somebody. Though not widely publicized, I fell for somebody this year. It’s not widely publicized, because the other half of the equation didn’t exactly fall back. But you know what? No regrets. I put myself out there, I took a risk, I gained a friend and I learned a lot about myself. Mostly this: There is still love in this steely old heart of mine, and someday I will find it. And when I do, well, they may just be the luckiest person in the world. Here’s to not looking, but finding it anyway.

7) Took a road trip to St. Louis. Admittedly, I slept a good portion of the way there. But my travel partner Steve packed us some fantastic snacks and let me pick the radio station part of the time. We connected with two of my college friends and went to see the Brewers (lose) at Busch Stadium. We laughed ourselves silly. We got in a stupid little spat. We ate too much. We slept too little. And we wouldn’t change any of it. Road trips are the best.

8) Found some old friends. People can say what they want about Facebook, but I have had some amazingly positive experiences because of it. In May, I spent a night out with two very long-lost friends. One was from college and I had not seen him since 1988. The other I met right after college and I had not seen him since 1992. Both met me out for a night of cocktails and bad bar food in Minneapolis. It was quite a walk down memory lane, and I loved it. Thanks, Facebook! You’re the best. Forget about all the haters.

9) Returned to the birthplace of Jen Wittwer. Little known fact: I was born in New Mexico. So when I had a chance to take a business trip to Albuquerque, I did not hesitate. New Mexico is amazing. I hadn’t been back since I was 13. It really is the Land of Enchantment–they’re not just making that up. At the end of my conference, my friend Colleen met up with me for a long weekend. We went swimming in the middle of a thunderstorm (Colleen’s famous quote: “One more bolt of lightning, and then we’ll head inside!”), taunted the unsuspecting doppelganger of my ex-husband, saw the mass ascension of hot air balloons, drove to Santa Fe in true Thelma and Louise style and met the most handsome, charismatic and perfect artist ever, and laughed until we could not breathe while singing to Andy Gibb and eating sopapillas. My cheeks hurt for days upon my return from all the laughter. This trip was credited with my funniest moment of 2010–no small feat.

10) Made a whole bunch of new friends. I have had years that were devoid of meeting anyone new or really all that interesting, but 2010 was not one of those years. I have made some amazing new friends. People who are interesting, thoughtful, bright, clever, energetic and full of chutzpah. People who are willing to challenge me and inspire me to be better. People who are just downright funny. My life is richer on the other side of 2010, and that’s just cool.

So thanks, 2010….it’s been real. And here’s to hoping that my list in 2011 will be equally grand. I can’t wait to see what you have in store.

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