2020 Top 5: Highlights & Reflections

I’m dispensing with the preamble today; I think the categories speak for themselves.

Highlights

5. The Beach Trip

Taking off the first week of January so we could spend a four-day weekend at the beach with some of our friends was the only opportunity we had to travel this year, and I’m glad we took it. When I wrote about the experience I was feeling pretty low and dwelt on the more negative aspects of the trip, but on balance I think there was more good in it than bad, and a lot that I learned besides. We watched the sun rise over the ocean and walked on the beach under a full moon. We ate cake and sang a made-up birthday song. We cooked and drank and danced and talked.

I set intentions for the year, which I think ended up being more helpful and rewarding than setting goals would have been. I spent the first few days of the new year doing things I genuinely enjoyed, and I think that put me in a much better frame of mind than trudging resentfully back to work on January 2 would have. After only taking vacations with my family as a child and my husband as an adult, I realized that I might enjoy the possibility of taking trips with my family and with some friends—as long as I’m careful about matching the right people to the right kind of activities. When we can finally travel again, I look forward to planning more relaxing trips with the people I care about.

4. Finishing Our Biggest House Project Yet

I’m equal parts proud and embarrassed about this one, but most of all I’m relieved: we finally finished staining all 17 of the unfinished wood windows in our house.

When we moved in, we had the old single-pane glazed windows replaced with more energy-efficient double-pane windows. The outsides of the windows were primed (and eventually professionally painted), but the insides were raw wood. We could have had the contractor stain them, but we thought we’d save money doing it ourselves.

Which, to be fair, was the case, but we hadn’t counted on how long it would take us to do. This was due in part to the fact that we worked inside in our unfurnished guest bedroom, where we only had enough room to work on two windows at a time. Each pair of windows took us two to three days to complete, based on the need to tape, condition, stain, wait, stain, wait again, seal, and wait some more before we could put them back in the frame.

But it was due in larger part to the fact that my spouse does not share my enthusiasm for home improvement, and can tolerate about 90 minutes of such work before his game face (and, consequently, my patience) wears off. We’re learning to work within these parameters, but it was a struggle and half to get to this point.

Rain, cold, heat, humidity, illnesses, travel, natural disasters, other commitments, and constitutional deficiencies differences meant that what should have taken two months of weekends took the better part of this year to do from start to finish.

But it’s done now. We can move on to other, higher impact and more satisfying projects. We’ve reached a decision about our restorative approach to this home’s improvement, which is to say that we’ve agreed that it simply is not worth the mind-numbingly stupid amount of effort to remove the smears of paint the previous homeowners got all over the edges of our lovely original millwork, and we’re going to skip ahead and just paint the walls and ceilings the colors we want and ignore the evidence of their slapdash handiwork.

3. Taking a Hike

Justin and I enjoy walking our town’s greenways, but neither of us would consider ourselves outdoorsy. We like nature, but in measured doses, with the ability to return to our creature comforts at the end of the day. We don’t own bikes, and we haven’t been camping since we were teens because sleeping on the ground sounds a lot less enchanting when you know from experience that you’ll hardly sleep and get up feeling more tired than when you laid down.

But a good friend of ours has taken up hiking as a form of exercise, and he invited us along as a way to hang out while remaining socially distanced. As we hadn’t seen him face-to-face in six months, we jumped at the opportunity. We picked a trail at a nearby state park, a modest three-mile loop with views of a lake.

We had to take a literal rain check on the first date, and when our rescheduled date rolled around it looked like we’d be rained out again. Instead we gritted our teeth and committed to hiking in the chilly drizzle. When we arrived at the park, we couldn’t find the trailhead; despite the assurances on the park website, it turned out we couldn’t access the trail we’d chosen from the lot we’d parked in.

In a last ditch effort to save the outing, we decided to take on a six-mile hike over moderately difficult terrain. Our friend had tackled longer hikes like this one, but Justin and I hadn’t, and we were worried about giving out before the end. But we persevered, with fortification from homemade granola bars. We were physically sore for the next several days, make no mistake, but we were also psychologically refreshed.

Justin discovered that hiking may be one of the few forms of exercise he doesn’t hate, and we managed to squeeze in another (shorter) hike before the weather turned cold. I bought him a pair of waterproof boots and wool socks for Christmas, and I’m thinking of getting some insulating layering pieces so that we don’t have to wait until spring to try another trail.

2. Late Night Coffee & Bacon

I said before that October was a lost month for me. That’s mostly true, but there was one piercingly bright moment in the middle of it that I didn’t mention, because I knew I’d come back to it here.

After working two weeks of overtime, and with more overtime on the horizon, my boss took pity on me and gave me a Friday off to recover. Another friend of mine, one who works an irregular schedule, coincidentally had the day off as well, but was switching over his schedule to night shift. We decided to get together in the evening, after dinner, and hang out until I was tired.

Now, before the pandemic started, this friend and I had been getting together to cook. It was an excuse to experiment with new foods and new techniques that we wouldn’t have a reason to try otherwise. At the beginning of the shelter-in-place period we had tried cooking over a video call, but it hadn’t worked out and we didn’t try again. But we continued to potter about on our own, and despite the need to keep our distance, the impulse to bring an offering of food to this gathering was too strong.

He made coffee and ginger cookies; I made candied bacon. We sat outside in the cold and talked about work, and books, and D&D, and the plans we’d made that had been knocked askew by the pandemic. For the first time in months I felt at ease—quite the achievement for two introverts.

1. Catching Jack the Ripper

On a lighter and also much, much darker note, Justin and I enjoy playing games together, and one that has continued to delight is Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. After playing through the first ten mysteries, we sprang for the sequel Jack the Ripper & West End Mysteries. The first four mysteries revolve around the events of the Jack the Ripper murders, which the game has re-created in its signature choose-your-own-adventure-style puzzle game.

Justin and I are most decidedly not into true crime—we both hate horror as a genre because we don’t like to be scared—but we found these mysteries riveting. Because it’s a game and the murders were never solved, the game’s creators had to make artistic choices about what evidence to emphasize and what to downplay, but they talk a little about why they made the choices they did in their notes. They clearly immersed themselves in several decades of theories as well as the facts of the case, and it makes for an intense and emotionally compelling experience.

After many, many hours of poring over the testimonies, spinning and discarding our own theories, we had the immense satisfaction of solving the case and catching Jack. It was an exhilarating experiencing and one I’m so glad we shared. I’d highly recommend the Consulting Detective games to couples who want to spend a Sunday on the couch eating snacks and working cooperatively to try to outsmart Sherlock Holmes.

Also? Doctor Llewellyn can burn in hell forever.

Reflections

4. I don’t like to cook unless there’s an audience.

Between the two of us, Justin has always been the more dedicated and adventurous cook. My interest in cooking waxes and wanes, and this past year has definitely been a low point. Now that we’re both working from home, I don’t have to plan or pack a lunch for work, and I rely on Justin most nights to cook because he’s able and willing to do it. When he doesn’t feel like cooking, we’re likely to pick up food from a local food truck, since it’s one of the few ways we can get out of the house and feel a little normal, and it’s a way we can support small business owners.

One of the few things that enticed me into the kitchen was cooking or baking for our D&D group. I enjoy the performative aspects of cooking, the act of presenting food to a waiting table, being asked and answering questions about what I make, receiving everyone’s feedback on whether it was successful or not. With our in-person sessions on hold indefinitely, I’m not sure how to muster the enthusiasm to cook when it’s just fuel.

3. Cold-weather walks are more enjoyable than I thought.

I’m cold a lot. I don’t like being cold. I figured once the weather turned, my near-daily walks would cease until the season changed again. But with nowhere else to go, walking the greenway or doing two laps around the park is one of the few reasons I have to leave the house and about the only exercise I get.

I’ve started layering up to a ridiculous degree—we’re talking camisole + sweater + hoodie + down jacket and wool hat covered with two or three hoods—and it’s made these walks surprisingly not miserable. It hasn’t gotten really, properly cold here yet, but as mentioned above, I’m thinking of investing in a few lightweight but warm layers so that I can continue trekking outside every other day or so.

2. I’m introverted, but not solitary.

I’ve known for a long time that I recharge by spending time alone, but this year revealed to me that it’s equally important to me to regularly connect with my friends. I find many people and most social situations exhausting, but there are people who don’t wear me out, and I cherish them. Intensely. I want to spend more time talking to those people, because their conversation bolsters me day to day, especially when I can’t go out and have novel experiences.

I have solo hobbies—reading, sewing, knitting—but that doesn’t mean I want to be left alone all of the time. It hasn’t been easy striking a balance between my cravings for companionship and other people’s availability to provide it, but I’m learning to savor the moments where things do line up.

1. Writing is my least frequent but most gratifying pastime.

In the latter part of 2019, I spent a lot of time writing for my first D&D game. The game was on a long hiatus, but another player and I decided to keep things alive via play-by-post. It was an intensely collaborative experience, filled with tension and excitement and stimulating challenges. It’s the most creative writing I had done since college, and in my opinion some of my best writing. It is by far one of my fondest memories of that year, second only to our trip to London.

Unfortunately, that game went defunct at the beginning of this year. No other creative writing in that vein has taken its place. I’ve blogged, though not as much as I would have liked. I’ve composed a bit of magnetic poetry, but didn’t keep up the monthly habit I was striving for.

I’ve a nasty tendency to not do the thing I actually want to do, or the thing that will make me happy. I get bogged down in things I know I need to do, or things I feel like I should do.

I want to change that. I have writing ambitions that will never be realized if I don’t sit down and just write. I have ideas, I have skills, I have a circle of loving and supportive readers—and so I have no more excuses.

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