Top Ten of Jen – 2014

Life.  I spend a lot of time thinking about it.  Don’t we all?  I think that life is grand and complex, and I also think that it is comprised of thousands of tiny remarkable moments.  This past year had a whole host of rich, invigorating, heart-warming moments.  In no particular order, here are my ten favorite moments of 2014.

1)  Patio Perfection.  I declared 2014 to be “The Year of the Patio.”  This sounds a little more exciting than perhaps it actually was, but it included new furniture, new throw pillows, new planters and some professional landscaping.  That was all well and good, but The Year of the Patio also served as host to a moment I loved.  After a delicious dinner one night with five of my favorite people, we all sat together in quiet solitude and strung together the custom up-cycled strings of lights my brother-in-law David made to complete my vision of patio perfection.  The assembly line quickly became a well-oiled machine and the lights were put together in very little time.  Moments later, David and my friend Fern hung the lights on my house as I stood back to take it all in.  I saw whimsy, bright colors and a patio that suited my taste. What I saw more than that, however, was a group of people I love deeply and who love me back, all working together to bring that moment’s vision of happiness to life. I tell you, there is no better feeling one can have.

2)  A Ban Lifted.  In June something happened in Wisconsin that was long overdue and a wonderful development:  the state’s ban on gay marriage was lifted.  The timing was impeccable because it occurred the day that Pride Fest was commencing.  I was on the other side of the state when news came through that this had occurred, and I was instantly beside myself with joy.  So many friends and people I hold dear would now have equal opportunity to marry – it was truly a beautiful thing.  Later that same day, I learned that my friends Matt and Fernando had rushed to the courthouse and gotten married, much like many other couples in Wisconsin.  Because I wasn’t home at the time, I could not be there with them.  So what I did instead was get on the road early that Sunday morning so I could make it back in time for the Pride parade.  I knew Matt and Fern were walking in the parade and so I quietly waited for them, then ran out in the street to hug them when they made their way toward me. Surprising them to share in their joy and standing in the streets of Milwaukee hugging and crying was a most incredible feeling.  It was as if the vibrational energy of our whole community had elevated as justice was served.  Even though on so many fronts we still have far to go, I am so happy that I got to see this happen in my lifetime.

3)  BFF Time.  I spend time with my life-long best friend Mindy every year, usually more than once. This year was no different.  We met up in the summer for a weekend of shenanigans, and I went to see her again in the fall when she needed me and I needed to be there for her in that moment.  We spent a day dilly-dallying all over eastern Iowa and ultimately landed in our college town bar on the Saturday afternoon of what happened to be Homecoming weekend.  We sat in a booth and drank cheap, crappy drinks. We shared our tales of woe and our vision for a happy life and everything in between.  And at least four times during that hour long conversation, I laughed so hard I had to put my head down on the formica table and wipe away tears of laughter.  It’s just so amazing to have someone in your life who you can say anything to.  Anything.  At all.  Does not matter how sassy or crass it is. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this friendship or the freedom that comes with it, but it is one of my life’s greatest blessings.

4)  Kissin’ Cousins.  OK, we don’t have kissing cousins in our family – at least not that I know of. But we do have an awesome group of family members who like to be together and we make a point to do it with some frequency.  This year we resumed our annual Cousins Weekend in Spooner, Wisconsin.  It is a tradition that we all love, and it incorporates a lot of hanging out, pontooning, getting sun-soaked, eating, laughing and storytelling.  There was a precise moment of hilarity during this year’s Cousins Weekend that is etched in my memory.  My cousin Joel, my brother-in-law David and I were playing a rousing game of Qwirkle, which is a strategy game that involves matching shapes and colors.  Joel and I were ramping up the smack-talking with one another and relishing each and every “Qwirkle-tunity.” We were laughing so much that everyone in the vicinity joined in on the laughter and fun.  It was wholesome and pure and everything I love about my family.  More, please.  I need more of that.

5)  Nashville Cats.  In July my sister, brother-in-law and I took a trip to Nashville to see our friends Kate and Eric.  We have been to visit them several times, and each visit brings new adventure. This trip was no exception.  We saw a bluegrass show at the Ryman Auditorium, went to the Johnny Cash Museum, went to Jack White’s incredible record store, did some shopping, ate great meals and maybe one night drank (way) too much.  The entire weekend, there were repeated reminders of my dad, who would have surely loved everything about Nashville. It was notable because the specific weekend we were there was the anniversary of his passing so many years ago.  This all culminated for me when I stopped at a grocery store with Kate and Eric, and upon entering the store my dad’s favorite song “Aimee” was playing on the radio.  I had just experienced sign after sign after sign that Dad was with us and this one blew me away.  I strolled through the store looking for ingredients for our dinner and periodically wiped away my tears.  I miss that man every day, but he is always by my side.  I was grateful for this reminder.

6)  A Challenge Met.  In January I decided I was going to set a new crazy challenge for myself: Write 52 blogs in 52 weeks.  I was inspired by my friend Jan who has more than once now written 100 blogs in 100 days.  I pretty much stayed on course with one blog per week, and found this relatively challenging, enlightening and very, very fun.  The weeks I traveled or felt I had nothing to say got me a little behind, and then in November Jan came at me with yet another challenge:  30 blogs in 30 days. I was hesitant, but honestly I needed to make up some ground anyway.  So I dug in, and met that challenge, too.  It was haaaaaaaaaard.  Not every day, but many days, and I think that pushing through that was in fact the beauty of it.  I realized at the end of this exercise that I have more to say than perhaps I originally thought and that by writing with greater frequency, my storytelling and my writing skills improve significantly, as does my thoughtful observation of the world.  The precise moment of meeting a big challenge – when I hit 52 in even less than 52 weeks – was a great feeling. Onto the next writing challenge…whatever shall it be?  Stay tuned.

7)  A New-Old Friend.  In addition to the wonderful Mindy, I have another friend who has known me almost my whole life and is still part of my life to this day.  Her name is Ellen, and she is beautiful, sassy, smart and funny.  Even though we grew up in Iowa, Ellen and I both ended up living near Milwaukee.  Even so, our lives were so full and so different, we typically only saw each other once or twice a year.  All that changed this year, when Ellen went through a personally challenging time and we reconnected in an incredible way.  There were dinners and overnights and parties that were all very fun.  But my favorite moment with Ellen was one night when we were instant messaging one another. The conversation turned sassy (hard to believe, I know) and we were laughing so hard at each of our computers that Ellen claims she actually frightened her cat.  As I pointed out to her some months later – sometimes when something bad happens, something wonderful happens at the exact same time.  A renewed friendship with someone who knows your past is a glorious thing.  Thanks, universe.  (And Ellen.)

8)  One Happy Memory.  My sister and I made a commitment this year to take a trip using some money we had inherited from our step-mother earlier in the year.  It was an unexpected windfall, and we were determined to create a happy memory with it.  After months of planning, we set out for a ten day tour of the Pacific Northwest and our first stop was Vancouver, British Columbia.  Vancouver is a stunning, cosmopolitan city and we loved everything about it.  Our second night there, we set out to find some sushi which wasn’t hard to do.  After considerable research, we landed on a little hole in the wall restaurant called “Sushi Mart” with long, plain tables, fluorescent lights, counter service and zero ambiance.  That being said, we had the opportunity to gorge ourselves on and incredible platter of sushi for less than $20.  Even better, Jess and I had an incredible conversation about life, love and the pursuit of happiness.  That’s what this trip was all about, right there.  Love, love, love.

9)  Two Happy Memories.  After Vancouver, Jess and I hopped on the train and made our way to Seattle, Washington.  Quite unexpectedly, I loved this city.  I mean I loved, loved, loved it.  We met up with friends who were local to the area and our travel partner for the next leg of the trip, my friend Vance.  One afternoon, we hit up the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum.  Glass is my favorite artistic medium, and Chihuly is the master to end all masters of it.  There was a moment in the museum where we turned a corner to enter a new exhibit, and it was so stunning that I think it took my breath away. There was another moment at the same museum when Vance I returned at nightfall to see the outdoor garden exhibit in all its colorful lit-up glory and I’m pretty sure I was breathless again.  I could spend days in this magical place.

10)  Three Happy Memories.  We left Seattle and made our way toward Portland, Oregon where plenty more fun with friends and family awaited us.  But before we got to Portland, we spent a night on the Oregon coast in a sleepy little resort town named Manzanita.  We went to the local grocery store and purchased bread, cheese, a couple bottles of pretty low-brow wine and some cheap plastic glasses to drink from.  Jess ducked out early, but Vance and I sat at the beach for hours drinking, talking and mostly quietly taking in the powerful beauty of a rugged coastline and crashing waves.  It was the kind of moment that has a way of making your life feel big and small at the same time.  It was humbling and awe-inspiring, and precisely what my soul needed at that moment in time.

So for each precious moment I experienced in 2014 – some described in this blog and so many more that were not – my heart remains full and my life better than ever.  If happiness is the goal – and I believe that it is the only one that really matters – I am almost always there.  To which I simply say to the universe, my creators and all the people who contribute to it – thank you.  Each passing day and year leaves me more and more humbled.

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