2016: What the hell was that?

It’s a universal truth that 2016 can be described as a dumpster fire of bullshit, but it will go down in my personal history as the first year I’ve ever completed a Project 365. Well, 347 out of 365 ain’t bad, right?

Despite not having 365 photos in the set, I’m counting the project as complete. I set a reminder for myself every day at 5 p.m., and that seemed to be the key to me taking a picture. There were a few days (18, actually) where I apparently forgot completely, and instead of going back and trying to fudge something for the day I’m just going to leave it. It’s 95 percent complete. Hooray!

That whole set can be found here, by the way.

The year wasn’t all bad, though it wasn’t all good, either. Let’s recap!

January
Jan. 2: Hiking with my fluffy-assed companion. #project365
We hiked a lot with Stella, and I decided that cold-weather hiking is my favorite hiking. There tend to be fewer people on the trails, and you don’t tend to get nearly as sweaty. The month ended pretty warmly, but winter reared its head again soon enough.

February
Feb. 9: We woke up and it was snowing! #project365
Winter showed up with snow, but it was a relatively weak showing as compared to the year before. Still, Stella was happy to eat snowflakes. Ian and I took a trip to Biloxi and found it to be a pretty shitty town with even shittier beaches, although the Beau Rivage was a really nice casino. Luckily it was just a short weekend trip and we didn’t waste any more time there.

March
March 21: My forsythia is blooming! It's kinda weak, but it's something. #project365
March was pretty warm, and we did some work in our yard. Other than that, it looks like we mainly hung out at home with the animals (besides my monthly trip to the Raven offices). Oh! There was a marathon in town and to show our solidarity, we walked to brunch and then all over downtown to drink. I don’t remember much of the end of that day, but I know it was fun.

April
April 11: Chicago was windy af today. #project365
In April I got sick but then better, and we traveled to Chicago to visit my mom and sisters—and my sister’s new super-cute baby! Ian drove up with Stella and I, but then took a flight back home. I stayed a bit longer and worked from my mom’s house (and visited the North Shore Distillery, home of my favorite gin!), and then Stella and I drove back together like the traveling companions we are.

We also took Stella camping for the first time, and she did really well. She sorta-barked only once at something outside the tent; otherwise she slept on my leg the whole night (Ian was relegated to the twin-sized air mattress we’d bought for Stella to use, ha!).

We also hosted our first beer-tasting event with friends on April 30, which was a huge success. The hangover the next day was totally worth all of the great beers we got to try.

May
May 10: This broad was a perfect travel companion over the past couple days. We explored Athens, Ga., patio-by-patio and loved it! #project365
The month started with mourning Gordo being gone for a year on May 4.

A bright spot of the month was when Stella and I traveled to Athens, Ga., for two days to hang out, work and explore the city. I decided it was about time to embrace the benefits of working remotely, and had heard Athens was a dog-friendly city. We rented a small AirBnB near downtown and spent our days working from patios of bars and coffee shops. It got a bit warm, but luckily it was relatively easy to find shade. I was already used to taking Stella around with me in Chattanooga, so I was prepared with plenty of water, snacks and poop bags. It was a fun couple of days, and I was able to get a lot of work done thanks to Stella being happy to chill next to me for the day after our mile or so walk from where we were staying.

The end of the month was capped off by launching a huge project I’d been working on with a team of co-workers for several months. It was a satisfying conclusion to something several people had worked incredibly hard on for quite some time.

June
June 11: The arcade/pinball expo was a dang good time. #project365
June was likely the most exciting month of the year for us, starting off with getting Stella’s DNA test results back, which were a mix of surprising and why-didn’t-we-see-that obvious breeds.

Then Ian and I traveled to Atlanta for the Southern Fried Gameroom Expo, a two-day pinball and arcade machine convention. Friday night was lighter on people so it was more fun; the lines to play pretty much any game by Saturday afternoon were incredibly long. There was also an issue where a session that consisted of playing the game Quiplash! (which I was very familiar with thanks to months of playing it at Raven on Friday afternoons) got incredibly sexist and misogynistic, and I had to leave the room. It was disappointing, and my feedback to the convention’s organizers went unanswered, so I don’t think I’ll be returning.

June 25: At the top of Sandia Mountain. Where it's harder to breathe but the alcohol works faster. #project365
Later in June we took our yearly “big” vacation. We’d originally thought about going to Canada, but after reading that June is the rainiest time of year there we decided to head to New Mexico instead. And it was amazing! We spent a couple days in Albuquerque, which has an awesome craft beer scene, and then took a train to Sante Fe for a couple days for more sightseeing, brewery-hopping and an incredible visit to Meow Wolf. We came back to Albuquerque and did some hiking just outside the city, both in the Sandia Mountains and at Bandolier National Monument (which was breathtaking). I also met up with my friend Molly, who I hadn’t seen since high school, at Santa Fe Brewing Company in Albuquerque. She and a friend of hers gave us all kinds of advice on cool shit to do while we were in town, and they did not disappoint. People kept asking us why we picked Albuquerque for a vacation and seemed incredulous that we’d visit somewhere just because they had cool scenery and a lot of beer. But why else would you go anywhere?!

While in New Mexico, I had a beer-drinking contest with a friend/co-worker who was on his own vacation in Denver at the same time. The contest was to see who could drink the most unique beers while in our respective cities, and we had to drink at least four ounces of a beer for it to count as an entry. I beat him handily at 102 beers to 69. (He’ll put an asterisk next to my win since I had an extra two days, but he agreed to this as we were negotiating the rules so SUUUUCK IIIIIT.)

July
July 16: Quality time with the niece today. #project365

July was kind of a shit-show. Ian and I were both sick at the start of it, though the month improved with a trip Stella and I took to Chicago to visit with family again. My two sisters and I got matching tattoos, and for once I’m really happy with a tattoo.

But the month ended with me (and about 80 percent of my co-workers) getting laid off—the first time I’d been laid off in my two decades of working full time. It wasn’t exactly a shock; I’d seen the writing on the wall for a while. I mainly was just sad that my time with the company and my co-workers had come to an end. It was the first job I’d had where I really felt like I fit in, and I was bummed that my time there was over.

August
Aug. 13: It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. #project365
I decided to give myself a couple of weeks to decompress and spent a lot of time walking Stella around town or in the neighborhood. I also started volunteering at the animal shelter in my neighborhood, figuring it was a good time since I was too broke to adopt any new animals that tugged at my heartstrings.

I went to a Railsbridge event sponsored by Code XX, the women’s coding group here in Chattanooga, where I learned enough about Ruby on Rails to inspire me to continue my study of JavaScript.

I took advantage of having dental insurance for another month and got a much-needed crown put on, too. That wasn’t fun, or cheap, but I was glad to get it done while I still could.

I also started working with a career counselor and completely revamped my resume for the first time in years. I realized I didn’t want to leave tech and began a job search—I also started trying to draw unemployment and realized what a racket that whole thing is.

September
Sept. 13: BFF naptime on my desk. #project365
I took Stella on more walks, hung out with the cats, and cooked a bunch of meals. I realized that cooking was a stress-reliever for me, and a good way to feel useful since I still didn’t have a full-time job. I did do some digital media consulting work for a former employer, which was a fun experience. I learned a lot about freelancing—and myself. I can see myself consulting again on a project-by-project basis, but I don’t think I could make a whole career out of freelancing. I appreciate a steady income and routine—and health insurance—way too much.

October
Oct. 16: Toronto you have a lot of dogs and that's super cool but so far your people are kinda rude. #project365
This month was one of the best of the year. We started it off with a camping trip to the Chilhowee Recreation Area, and then we headed to Murfreesboro for an Oktoberfest celebration at the famed Green Dragon bar. Unfortunately the bar itself was closed due to the festival, so I still wasn’t able to go inside and experience it in all its hobbit and dragon glory. One day.

In the middle of the month I went to Toronto with two friends/former co-workers to attend Full Stack Toronto, a development/UI/project management conference that we were planning on attending back when we were all at Raven still. We attended sessions during the mornings and early afternoons and then explored the gorgeous-yet-rainy city of Toronto.

Oh, and Stella turned three!

At the end of the month I started my new job as a quality engineer at Emma, Inc.! They’re based in Nashville but are remote-friendly, and there were already two other folks on the engineering team living in Chattanooga. Emma is known around Nashville (and beyond) as being an incredibly smart and fun company to work at, and my experience so far has exceeded my expectations. It was a strong way to finish out an already great month, and left me feeling energized and ready for what was to come.

November
Nov. 9: I can't believe what happened last night. Still. #project365 #imwithher
Despite such a great month before, November sort of descended into madness with the election turning out worse than I think everyone expected. We hosted some friends at our house for Election Night, and an evening that started out jovial and hopeful ended in sadness and incredulity. I’m still not sure I believe the country will survive the next four years, but a small positive is that—prompted by not knowing how to live in a country that so obviously does not care about the rights, health and safety of women or minorities—I finally started seeing a therapist again.

After my initial couple weeks of despair, I left Facebook (yeah yeah, I’d return in December) and started focusing on things that made me happy and feel good, like hanging up “mental health” lights in my house and walking shelter dogs and learning to code. I went into the end of the year feeling nervous, but ready to take action.

December
Dec. 13: Old Broads Club. #project365
December started off good but stressful. I accidentally fell in love with, and then we adopted, a 13-year-old dog that I’d walked at HES one day. And then I had to head to Nashville for a week at my new job, leaving Ian home to handle all that goes along with bringing a new dog into a house that already has one dog and three cats. (Sorry about that again, guy.)

But by the middle of the month Star Fox was fitting in nicely, Stella’s emo-ness was subsiding and all of the cats (even King Boo) had gotten fairly used to her.

We were planning on renting a car and driving to Chicago for the holidays, since it had been about five years or so since I’d been home at Christmas. Our plans were set, presents were bought, car was rented. And then, two days before we were supposed to leave, I slipped off our back deck and broke my right ankle (officially I broke off the bottom of my lateral malleolus—into several pieces—and sprained the entire ankle) and royally beat up my left knee.

Dec. 27: Today is one week since I broke my ankle, and I had my follow-up with an orthopedic doctor. It's hard to believe that some small, broken, floating around bone fragments are what's causing me so much pain. #project365

I’d never broken a bone before, but the pain was so bad that I couldn’t get up for fear of passing out or vomiting. Within minutes my entire ankle was swollen to the size of a fist, and Ian took me to the ER. I suppose I should be proud of making it to 37 before breaking a bone (not counting the pinky toe I likely broke when I smashed it into the coffee table one drunk evening years ago), but it sucked. It still sucks. I likely won’t be off crutches until mid to late February, and based on the little range of motion I have after three weeks I’m guessing I’ll need physical therapy, too.

Before breaking my ankle, I had been hesitant to talk too much shit about 2016 as a whole. Sure, a lot of people had died and we elected a literal dumpster fire to lead the country, but I wasn’t taking it personally. Until that night. Narcissistic or not, on that night I decided 2016 could go fuck itself.

So here’s to 2017. Here’s to the country surviving, to famous people not dying in droves, and to my ankle healing up nicely. Here’s to a relatively safe, happy and healthy year for myself and my family, and for you and yours.

One year gone

Today marks one year since Gordo died. He was cremated and I planted tiger lilies (given to me by a thoughtful and knowing friend) above the place in our yard where I scattered the ashes. The flowers bloomed and then died, and I fretted until my friend told flowers for Gordome they would grow back again the next season.

One day recently, Ian started to accidentally mow over the burial spot and the lawn mower—which is electric and had full batteries—sputtered and stopped working. “Gordo says hi,” he told me later.

The flowers are growing again now, and should bloom soon.

In the year since Gordo died, I’ve thought about him often. Every day, most likely, since I see things all over the house that remind me of him. I almost started crying when I opened a box of Band Aids recently—peeling off their wrappers would cause him to come running from wherever he was and he would beg to be able to eat the paper.

At first I wasn’t sure how I’d sleep, since every night for nearly 16 years he would curl up under my chin and purr me to sleep, but soon after he was gone BK started sleeping where he used to. She tried to be sneaky about it at first—she’d climb into bed this is how we sleptand get between Ian and me as usual, but when I would wake up in the morning she’d be on my right side, snuggled up to me and my pillow just like Gordo used to. (Well, almost. She’s not super into being spooned like he was.) Now, though, she is pretty obvious about what she’s doing and many nights she’ll immediately settle down next to me and start purring. I’m not sure if she set out to intentionally comfort me, but it worked. It still works.

I don’t see him in Dragon (what we finally settled on as a name for the male foster kitten we ended up adopting) at all, which is a relief. I was so afraid I was subconsciously trying to replace him by adopting another male ginger cat, but he’s pretty much the exact opposite of Gordo. He’s a kinetic ball of energy, and is both skittish and brave at the same time. He isn’t too fond of people, but he loves BK and King Boo and Stella is his best friend. He’s not super cuddly, and I don’t think I could ever hold him long enough to cry into his fur, but he brings a different joy and energy into the house.

And this morning, I woke up with both him and BK sleeping next to me.

I knew the feelings of hollow sadness wouldn’t last forever, but it’s a relief to have made it a year and be able to think back easily and sweetly of the time I spent with Gordo. He was one cool cat who lived a good, long life. So rest in peace, old buddy. I’ll be drinking in your honor today.

RIP Gordo

Every year is getting shorter

Time is ticking out

I hung up a clock today. A real, old-school, two-hands one. I can’t remember the last time I had a clock in my house that made that noise—tick, tick, tick—and it’s a bit disconcerting.

Tick—time is passing.
Tick—you’re getting older.
Tick—time is running out.

It’s easy to waste seconds when we can’t hear them being spent.

Tick, tick, tick. Three more gone. Tick, tick, tick. You better do something, the clock taunts me. Tick, tick, tick. What will you have to show for your time when it’s up?

Day three

I’m not sure how long you’re supposed to grieve for a pet, but right now I feel like my grief is never going to end. I went out with friends last night and had a good time and I thought oh cool, maybe I’m feeling OK now. But then I woke up this morning and as soon as Ian and Stella left I started crying and I really haven’t stopped.

sunday snugglesI know, deep down, that it was the right thing to do. The right time. Gordo hadn’t eaten any food since at least Thursday, and he would barely eat the few cat treats I set in front of him Friday and Saturday. Sunday afternoon he laid with me on the couch for a bit, but I could tell he wasn’t very comfortable. That night I put him up in the bed and instead of curling up with me he just kind of sat there. I woke up later and he was gone, but then I woke up again and he’d gotten back up there and was laying next to me, but still not cuddling like he usually did. Monday morning, it became obvious it was time.

He could barely walk a few steps without falling over sideways. He still pawed at the shower glass to get in like he’d been doing for the past couple weeks, and he still drank some water from the tiles once he got in, but then he stayed in there for a while just sitting there. When he came out of the bathroom later that morning I put him on his heating pad, but I could tell things weren’t right. I spent the morning and early afternoon with him, and then we went to our 1:30 p.m. vet appointment and the vet agreed that it was time to let him go.

So we did.

And then we left the vet’s office with an empty cat carrier and came home to a house that now only has two cats. I saw a napkin on the table and realized that I didn’t have to worry about it getting shredded. I unwrapped a tampon and for the first time in years didn’t have that mouthy orange cat come running, meowing because he loves crinkly paper. I saw the Slanket I’d left on the couch and realized I won’t have to put it up anymore so it won’t get peed on. Amazon delivered a box of puppy training pads that afternoon, which I’d been using since Gordo hadn’t been able to get into the litter box for a few weeks. I saw the handful of medications I’d been putting in his food still sitting on the counter. They’re still sitting there.

I can’t bring myself to wash the blankets on the couch because his fur is still on them.

The last two nights I’ve gotten into bed and caught myself waiting for him to climb up on the small step-stool and then to the ottoman, both set up a year or so ago as makeshift stairs to help him climb up to the bed. I don’t know how long I’ll keep waking up and immediately feeling lonely because he’s not curled up with me.

I spent so much energy preparing for the actual end—knowing when it was time and would I make the decision or would I come home to find him already gone?—that I don’t think I fully considered what it would feel like without him here. One of my friends mentioned the “horrible dark feeling” of the loss and that’s exactly what it is. He was a part of my daily life for 16 years and now he’s gone and his absence is so, so loud.

The end.

this is how we sleptWe look for meaning in death, and it’s easy to understand why. It never feels like we’ve had enough time, so we look for signs to make peace with the end. Signs that it’s the right time, if we’re the ones making the decision. Signs that it was meant to be, if we’re not.

But the truth is that we never really do have enough time, and I don’t think there’s a way to feel confident that it’s perfect timing when a decision needs to be made (or it’s made for you). You just do your best with what you’ve got.

Gordo was my companion for 16 years. I was 19 when I got him—a lifetime ago. He was with me through changing jobs, boyfriends, homes. He licked Ian when we started dating and that meant we were going to get married. He comforted me when I was sad, and made biscuits on my shoelaces before I’d leave the house. Every night he got in the bed and requested I turn on my right side so he could curl up under my chin, my arm wrapped around him so he could fit his head in the palm of my hand. I used to not be able to sleep unless he was there.

Gordo was my friend. And now he’s gone.

What feels like spring

Birds chirping. Sun shining. Grass growing. Wind blowing.

Barenaked Ladies on repeat. The old stuff, though, starting with Gordon.

Thinking about packing up the space heater. Dreaming of working from patios, or without pants in the house.

Cats finding sunshine and not moving for hours. The dog gets in on this game now, too.

Walks in the morning and the evening. Waving to neighbors. Emails about crime ramping up again, as it does when the weather gets warm, and struggling with leaving the house because of it for a while.

The smell of leaving windows open all day. Hiking without jackets. Wishing I could find a field like that one at MTSU all those years ago, when I left the Mass Comm building after changing my major, and I felt completely content except for being alone.

Because now I’m not, and having someone to walk through fields with—metaphorically or no—makes every season’s change so much more welcome.

Making the most of the time we have left

Gordo is dying. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with him—he’s been poked and prodded and had enough blood drawn to make the Red Cross vampires jealous, but all of his blood work has come back normal. He’s in great health for a 15-year-old cat, the vet says. But he’s lost several pounds in the last few years, and two of those pounds were lost in the last three months.

In November he had some digestive issues, so I took him to see the vet (who is a wonderful cat-only vet that we love). She noticed that his thyroid could be felt through his throat and suggested some routine bloodwork. That all came back fine, and after a couple days on some medicine his issues cleared up and he seemed back to normal, though still thin.

Then the Sunday before Christmas, he had a seizure. We caught the whole thing on video, weirdly enough, because at the time it happened Ian and I were in the living room setting up our new Dropcam. We weren’t sure exactly what happened until we went back and watched the clip, and being able to save a clip of the episode and show the vet helped her diagnose the seizure.

But man, it was scary. We were futzing with the Dropcam when Gordo came running into the living room with a piece of paper in his mouth (he’s obsessed with crinkly paper), and Stella came in after him. He turned and swatted at her like he always does, and she reached up and popped him on the top of the head (she flails her paws when she thinks the cats want to play, though she usually doesn’t make contact). He hissed and walked away from her, and then circled around to the side of the coffee table to hop up on it. But his hind legs wouldn’t let him jump. He walked in a little circle near the couch and then fell down, his hind legs twitching but unable to support him.

We heard him meow and that’s when I noticed he was laying down on the ground, drooling, dazed and unable to move. My first thought was that Stella had done something to him (not on purpose, but she is larger than him) so I hollered for Ian to get her out of the room. I touched his back toes, and when he made no reaction I got really scared. He absolutely hates his feet being touched, so this was a bad sign. I petted his head for a while, sure that this was the end.

He stared straight ahead for what seemed like 10 minutes but was probably only 45 seconds, and then all of a sudden he snapped out of it. He looked up at me, confused but alert, and then slowly stood up. He limped around for a few seconds, and I decided to see if he would eat some treats (my idea of how sick my cats are always hinges on whether they will eat or drink readily). He did—in fact, he ate them like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Then he limped around a bit more, but after about an hour he was back to normal. He jumped up on the table and then to the couch and laid on my lap, purring and content once again.

At the vet’s office the following Tuesday, she reviewed the clip I’d brought and determined that the way his body acted physically, combined with him seeming dazed and then snapping out of it, plus being ravenous after the whole ordeal, indicated that he’d had a seizure. But since it was only a one-time thing, she didn’t want to treat him with anti-seizure medication. She drew blood to do a full thyroid panel, which then came back negative again, and she noted we might not ever know what caused the seizure.

I asked her if the dog popping him on the head could have caused it, but she and her staff doubted it. For one, Stella would have had to hit him really hard to cause any kind of event, and she just tapped him. Our vet said if we wanted to really try to attribute it to the dog, maybe his adrenaline was going because she was near him and he doesn’t like her, and then when he had trouble jumping that increased his adrenaline again and he just got kind of overloaded. So I’m thankful that she doesn’t think Stella was the cause, at least not directly.

Ugh, and my heart broke watching the clip from the Dropcam. As soon as Gordo fell down, Stella knew something was wrong. The other cats ran away, but not Stella. Before he even started crying out, Stella ran to him and sniffed his back legs, and when he meowed she immediately looked up to Ian, who was standing near them but not aware of the situation unfolding yet. And then our first instinct was to move her away from him, even though she was the first responder, so to speak. That cat punches Stella in the face every chance he gets, and she still loves him.

Anyway, there isn’t really anything we can do for Gordo. He’s taking a glucosamine supplement because he’s old and has been acting a bit stiff lately anyway, and I’m feeding him wet food once or twice a day to help keep his weight up (which BK is loving since she gets in on this as well). We woke up New Year’s Day and found he had vomit on his ear, which could indicate he’d had another seizure overnight, but who knows. I stopped by the vet’s office and she said she wants proof of another seizure before treating him, and I completely agree.

People have been telling me for a while to start preparing myself emotionally for his death, and I don’t think I was ready to do that until he had the seizure. But now I’m ready. I’m done poking and prodding him—my goal now is to make sure he is happy and comfortable. So he’s going to get all the wet food he can eat, plus some sips of beer (his old favorite) and bites of pizza crusts (his new favorite).

I’ve known this cat for 15 years and can read him better than I can most people. He doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do, and when he’s ready to die he’ll die. My hope is that I won’t have to help him. For now, though, he’s still got some spark left. He’s still running around after balls of paper, having Wrestlemania with King Boo, and he’s still snuggling under my chin every night when I go to sleep.

Cats are funny in that they can be so attached to people yet still so independent and in tune with nature and their instincts. It’s like they straddle this line of a certain existence, as though they live in a sort of purgatory—caught between their true nature and the nature of humans. In the end, though, nature claims all of us, regardless of who or what we are. And we can’t fight that, no matter how hard we try.

2014 in review: What a great year

This was a year of big changes, but they were positive and exciting ones. We had a big 2013, too, with moving to Chattanooga and learning our way around a new city in the latter half of the year, and for the most part 2014 still felt very exploratory and adventurous.

But it also felt like we’re getting settled here. We’re making friends and getting invited to parties, we’ve got our favorite bars and restaurants pretty much hammered out, and we have a home that we hope to stay in for many years to come. We’ve gotten most of our things unpacked and we’re finally getting around to hanging things on the wall. I drive to Nashville every month for work, but my heart doesn’t feel weird when I drive through Murfreesboro anymore. 2014 was a year of starting to really feel at home in this city.

January/February

Blue House snow

We started the year out by closing on and moving into our cute little house in January, and then we got snowed in—twice (though the big one was in February). It was a pain to move twice in one year, but we love our house and where we’re located and don’t plan on having to move for a very, very long time. I write love letters to this house in my head all the time, which I think comes from years of waffling on whether to buy a house in Nashville and really learning what we wanted and didn’t want. So, hooray for being patient and getting it right.

March

Not too shabby for a first-timer, if I do say so myself.

March marks the first time I ever shot a gun. My in-laws took me to a gun range and taught me how to hold one, how to stand, and how to shoot. For most people this sounds simple and silly, but I grew up in a place where only bad people (and cops) had guns and have always had kind of a phobia of them. I decided that 2014 would be the year I got over that, and had a great first experience shooting in a totally empty range where I didn’t have to worry about noise around me or what a n00b I looked like.

April

It's been a fun morning. Bringing this girl back from Atlanta now.

April brought what was arguably a bigger change than buying a house—we adopted Stella! At six months old she was still very much a puppy, and the cats had no idea what to do about her. And, quite honestly, neither did we. She wore us out every day and we quickly realized we had to get her into obedience classes since we’d never trained a dog before.

But man, what a welcome addition she’s been to our family. She is the friendliest, funniest dog I’ve ever met. And she’s so good with the cats. Sure, she gets amped up sometimes and will try to chase or play with them, but King Boo keeps her in check and for the most part she’s very respectful of them. Gordo will seek her out just to punch her in the face and she just walks away like nothing happened.

We’ve been taking her to day camp once a week, and she’s become the star camper due to her sparkling personality and the way she can get even the shyest of wallflowers to come out of their shells and play. She runs all the dogs ragged, comes home covered in spit and dirt and collapses on the couch, happy as a clam. It’s the best $20 I spend every week.

I do still look forward to the days when she’s a bit calmer and I can sit in front of the TV for more than 15 minutes without having to get up to let her outside or back inside (or back outside again), but I’m trying to enjoy her puppy energy as much as I can. She certainly made me more active this year; she will never say no to a walk or a hike, no matter the weather outside.

May

Today was gorgeous

In May my mom and I visited Ireland, a trip we’d talked about taking for years. I kept meaning to blog about it after I got back, but I never could put into words how special it was for me. Not just getting to spend time with my mom, who I don’t get to see often enough, but being in a country our ancestors came from and seeing so much beautiful history preserved. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I definitely need to get back there to explore other parts of the country we didn’t make it to.

June

Look whose backpack came in the mail today

In June I finally bought a new camera—a Canon 70d—although I’m still working out how to use it and I’m not sure I’m actually happy with it. I probably should have kept saving for a few years and just made the jump into full-frame photography, so we’ll see if I keep this sucker around for as long as I did the last one.

We also bought Stella a backback in June and started taking her on hikes just about every weekend in the summer and fall. She gets so excited when she sees that thing, though at this point she’s gained some more weight and we’re going to need to buy her a new pack pretty soon.

June also marked the time when King Boo stopped kicking Stella’s ass every day and started laying next to her on the floor. It was the beginning of their friendship—which is ever-evolving and at times still volatile, but is a constant source of amusement around the house.

July

#100happydays Más béisbol

July was filled with fireworks (and learning Stella isn’t afraid of them but isn’t exactly a fan, either) and baseball—a very American month, I suppose. We had tickets to seven Lookouts baseball games last season and packed them all in during July and August.

August

5th Ave Apple Store. So cool. #100happydays

In August I visited New York City for the first time ever—alone. I was going for work but went up a few days early to explore the city. I lucked out and got perfect weather, so I traipsed all over the city looking for food and landmarks and I was not disappointed.

September

Twenty one pilots from afar #musicmidtown

In September Ian and I cheered on two of our friends who ran the Iron Man, and really enjoyed spectating a ridiculously difficult sporting/fitness event while drinking beer on the street outside.

The month also held our third visit to Music Midtown. Unfortunately they changed the lineup this year so that it featured newer, poppier acts instead of the 90s/rock vibe the festival has had in the past, and I think it will have been our last time at this festival—at least for a while.

October

La Perla

October was a great month. We celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary with a trip to Puerto Rico, and I swear I find myself at least once a week wishing we were back there. After my friend and her husband helped me figure out how to get Internet on my phone (thanks for nothing, Verizon!), the trip was so relaxing. Ian and I travel so well together, and we don’t ever really need a schedule or plan to have a good time. We stumbled into so many great restaurants and bars there, and had a great time just chilling on the beach with some beers (even though the sea stole my sunglasses, that sonofabitch). Ian and I are coming up on 11 years together (holy crap), and I know I am lucky that I get to spend most of my time with someone so perfectly suited for me and my weirdness. He’s really my favorite person in the world.

November

Getting ready to hit the trail

November was kind of scary because Gordo got sick, and at the vet we realized he’d lost quite a bit of weight. Although he’s been losing it steadily over the past few years, it seems to be a more rapid loss lately and we’re really having to keep an eye on him.

But November was also a lot of fun—Ian and I continued to explore Chattanooga’s hiking trails and bars, and we hung out with new friends and old. My sister Emily came to visit, too, and we took advantage of the sunny (but cold) weather and did a photoshoot down by the river and took Stella for a hike.

December

These cookies look much better with striped kisses.

And here we are in December. We started out the month at a cabin in Gatlinburg, and though it rained it was a much-needed getaway. I baked a lot of Christmas cookies, and we were back in Murfreesboro and Mt. Juliet to celebrate Christmas with family.

Looking back on the year, it was a really, really good one. I traveled a lot, but we also had lots of friends and family come and stay with us for several weekends. It was a good mix of being at home with the family and getting out and exploring our city—and the world. Even though I know we worked hard for what we have, I feel really lucky to have had the opportunities that I did, the job that I do, and to be surrounded by the people that are in my life.

2015, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

How is it almost Christmas?

Somehow fall morphed into winter and now it’s mid-December and I’m scrambling to finish my Christmas shopping. Ian and I spent the past weekend in Gatlinburg at a cabin we’d also stayed in a couple years ago. I won a free weekend there because the owner liked the review I left so much, but we’d been waiting to cash in the trip. Even though it rained all day Saturday, the trip came at the perfect time. I’ve been feeling a bit stressed out and the weeks approaching the holidays always get me a little down, so it was a relief to just chill out—sans dog—in the woods for a couple days.

(I know those of you with kids are laughing at me right now.)

Gatlinburg was all gussied up for Christmas, and I guess that inspired me a bit because Monday night Ian and I went to Big Lots and bought an assload of lights to decorate the outside of our house with. Of course, the excitement was fleeting and overruled by laziness, and we still haven’t put them up. Mainly because it’s dark after work and we don’t feel like futzing around in the front yard in the dark and cold after working all day. As much as I keep telling myself I’ll work on putting them up at lunch the next day, I have a feeling they’ll end up going into the attic until next year when I don’t wait until right before Christmas to decide to decorate.

But I did decorate the inside of the house some. Our cats are psychos so we can’t have a tree, but each year I decorate our biggest bookshelf with those big colorful lights and a window in our living room with a strand of the small white ones. I also threw a strand of white lights under the TV this year and hung my little star lights under the kitchen cabinets.

I don’t really know how to describe the feeling I always get around Christmas—it’s kind of like feeling bummed out, but with nostalgia and gratitude mixed in. Having strands of lights and a candle that smells like a pine tree always helps, though. And this is our first Christmas in our new house, which is exciting and seems to be cutting down on some of my usual holiday blues. We’ll have lived here a year at the end of January, and I still sometimes get goosebumps when I pull in the driveway after being gone. I know it’s not great to be so attached to a material possession, but this is our house, where we’re continuing to build our little family and make memories, and I really love it.

I fell in love with New York City

A couple weeks ago I took my first trip to New York City. I was going for a work conference in the middle of the week, but since I’d never been before I decided to take some time to explore the city on my own before I had to get down to business. Despite having grown up in a big city, I was nervous about going alone. New York sounded daunting, and while I like spending time by myself I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d feel spending three days alone in a city I’d never visited before.

NYC

As it turns out, I was fine. I was better than fine. The thing that struck me most about New York was that it’s an amazingly large city, but it was so easy to be and feel anonymous there. Every day I was surrounded by a sea of people, but I felt more invisible than I’d felt in years.

I loved that.

Once I figured out the subway system, I felt like I could do anything. Unfortunately, I only had a few days to myself, so I hit some highlights. I went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum; had brunch on Bleecker Street; walked the High Line; had some drinks at a cool bar called Brass Monkey where a guy bought me a drink because I was “nice” (and didn’t try to harass me!); visited Grand Central Station—specifically for the Apple Store but I also had a Magnolia cupcake while I was there; almost had a panic attack walking through the throngs of people in Times Square; visited the American Museum of Natural History; walked miles and miles through Central Park; and did a ton of walking around the Upper West Side, Greenwich Village and SoHo. I ate some great pizza, awesome bagels and one really amazing corned beef sandwich.

Grand Central Station was crazy

I can’t believe I waited so long to visit, and I definitely want to go back. There is something about that city… I can’t put my finger on it, but now I know why everyone is so enamored with it. I was surrounded by so many people, but I was completely in my own world. It was so freeing. I was alone, but I never felt lonely.