Sunday, January 18, 2015

My 2014

My favorite of the photos I took in 2014.

Overall, 2014 was definitely a better year for me than 2013. I mean, '14 was definitely not without its tough times, but, unlike '13, it didn't include a breakup, a health scare for me, or the passing of an extended family member. Also, it brought some significant blessings.

The wind chill map of Minnesota for Sunday, January 5, 2014.
I began the year as I have most recently, in Minnesota. I'd planned to return to Columbus the first Sunday of the New Year and to work the next day. The polar vortex, however, had other plans; and my Sunday evening flight was canceled. I wasn't able to come back until Tuesday, which meant I ended up taking 5 vacation days right off the bat. That limited how much time I could take off the rest of the year, but the upside of this whole situation was: The flight that got canceled—I was only booked on it because I volunteered to get off an earlier one and got a $600 airfare voucher for my trouble. That paid for one and a half plane tickets for two other trips I took during the year.

With, L to R top to bottom, Dixie, Angel, Jane, and Rachel.
Some of the biggest blessings of 2014 were the friendships—some newly formed and others strengthened—most especially with Dixie, Angel, Eric, Jane, Melissa, and Jennifer. Also, I got to not only hear-speak-again but also hang out a bit with Rachel Held Evans. Which was fun and awesome.

Many of the new friendships and some of those strengthened were the result of the two Camp Widow weekends I attended—East was in Tampa in March. I roomed with Angel and Rhonda. I knew who they both were since they'd both been to previous Camps, but I hadn't really connected with them yet. Well, being placed with them was such a stroke of good fortune. The three of us had SO much fun. And after Camp, Angel and I bonded even more.

One moment I remember from that Camp was during the message release. For this release, we wrote notes to our loves, folded them into boats, and went down to the marina, where let them go in the water. When I set mine in the water, it didn't really go anywhere, so I gave it a little push. It went straight out from me a few inches...and immediately floated straight back to me. I took it as a sign. 

The month of April brought my first bonus as an employee of my company (I became a full-time employee a year prior, after having been a contractor for 5 1/2 years). And it was enough that I was able to get myself a new laptop, which was especially nice after having only a netbook for several years and a very-slow desktop for a few years before that.

With Angie, one of my first yoga teachers.
In May I did something pretty major for me: I started doing yoga. For most of my life, I'd believed yoga was part and parcel of the Hindu religion and therefore to be avoided. But I finally realized that it doesn't have to be religious at all. I started with a class offered at work, which proved to be too advanced for me, so I switched to classes at a studio in town called Yoga on High. I fell in love with yoga and with the studio. While I can't yet say that I've noticed any major differences, I can't stop doing it, and I've had some amazing moments in classes. So—I keep coming back to the mat.

In June I started regularly attending the local chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. While it's not a substitute for therapy, it provides me with a community of people who "get it" and who care. My experience with Soaring Spirits showed me how valuable that can be, and it has proven true with DBSA as well.

The last weekend of that month, I went home for my niece Allison's grad party. I wasn't able to be there for very long, but it was good to be there for that milestone and celebrate with her and the rest of the family.

July brought the terrible news that my friend and former coworker Steve Kersten had passed away. To be clear, we hadn't been in touch since I left the company where we worked together, but I'd come to love him dearly while we did work together and still would have called him a friend thereafter. The world is definitely diminished for the absence of him as we knew him. I will remember him with fondness always.

In August I commemorated 10 years after the last time I saw Ron alive, and in September I celebrated his life on the 10-year anniversary of his passing.

Later in September I went to Camp Widow Canada, which was held in Toronto. I got to ride there with my local widowed friends Paula and Debbie (3rd and 4th from the left, respectively, in the photo above) and room with my dear friends Angel and Judy and a new friend Jane. My favorite moment from this Camp was the water-lantern release that Judy, Angel, Jane, and a few others of us did on Friday night.

October brought the celebration of my sister Debbie's (milestone) birthday. We all went back to Minnesota for the weekend; I was only able to go Saturday and Sunday, but—we had a fantastic time. It had been over 20 years since I'd been in Minnesota in October, and the fall color was peaking; it was very beautiful. My favorite moments were the apple picking that my siblings and nieces and I did and when Deb opened her gift from us—a new laptop, which was a complete surprise. :)

December was one of the most unforgettable months I've had in a long time. The first thing that made it so was that I got a new car. Having to was unexpected, and saying goodbye to the old one was tough, but it's nice to have a car now where everything is new and just works. And it was especially nice to gain a new friend out of the deal. (For pics and more on this, see the post linked above.)

The other thing that made December so memorable was the great time I had over Christmas. The holiday is often rough for me emotionally, and as usual, I avoided it as much as I could until I went home for break. Sometimes that emotional struggle continues for me through break, but this time was remarkably better in that regard. Of special note were the fun times with my siblings, just talking and laughing.

No Spyman!!! (Wish Jean could've been there for this one!)
Also during the Christmas break, I got to see again, for the first time in several years, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Dana. Our friendship epitomizes the phrase "picked up where we left off." I'm so grateful for her loyalty and love. 

So—thank you, 2014, for a relatively good year. Here's hoping 2015 is, yes, even better.

* * *

My favorite books I read during the year:
My most popular posts of the year:
  1. A New Car and a New Friend
  2. 10 Things in 10 Years
  3. Evolving in Monkey Town, Part 1: On Slants and Evolution
  4. In Loving Memory: Stephen "Steve" Kersten: May 24, 1965–July 5, 2014
  5. Letter to Heaven
  6. "You'll Have to Tell This Without Crying"
  7. 2013: A Year in Review

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A New Car and a New Friend

So my car essentially died earlier this month. I say "essentially" because, while it could have been repaired, all of the needed repairs together would've cost me almost $7,000. And yeeeah, I'm not putting that kind of money into a 13-year-old car. As much as I loved that car.

The hard part about this wasn't just that it was unexpected. Or that I initially had no idea how I'd afford a new car. The hard part was also that my old car, a 2001 Honda Accord, was more than "just a car" to me. Ron and I were in that car the first time he said "I love you" to me. And while I didn't think about that every time I was in it, when I realized I might be saying goodbye to it, that was one of the first things that came to mind.

When special things happen in a place, that place takes on greater significance. It becomes part of your memories about the occasion. And you can ask anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one; they'll tell you that certain places can trigger memories related to that person.

So when I was waiting at the dealership, Roush Honda in Westerville, Ohio, to find out what was wrong with it, and I was talking to two employees, Ericka and Bill, about my situation, I said that I had an emotional connection to that car. The reply was something like, "I'm not surprised; a lot of people do." I decided to tell them what it was. But when I went to say it, I hesitated a bit, and my expression must have changed...Ericka asked, "Was there a death?" And when I said what it was, Ericka said that "When there's a death, you can just tell." She then shared with me a loss that she is grieving, and Bill shared one that he is grieving as well.

I don't always know when it's appropriate to share this part of my story. I am keenly aware that frankly, not everyone wants to hear it or can handle it, really. But this time, I'm so glad I did, because I could share empathy with Ericka and Bill, something that would not have happened if I hadn't shared.

Well, as I mentioned, the news about the Accord was not good. It was time for a new car. And at first I didn't know what I was going to do. In addition to the financial concern, I honestly hate car shopping. But three fortunate things happened: 1) I figured out some adjustments I can make so I can afford a car payment, 2) Roush gave me a deal that will work with my budget, and 3) I had Ericka helping me through the process.

Ericka Smiley is Roush's Loyalty Exchange Coordinator. I had gotten my Accord from Roush, and she was there to help ensure that I bought from them again. She set me up with my salesman, Dave McCamon. Dave's easygoing and pleasant to work with, and I certainly have no complaints. But Ericka is the real hero of this story; she made it easier in so many ways, including staying with me the entire time that Dave and I talked about what kind of car I wanted and what kind of deal we could do. She participated in the conversation, but even if she hadn't, I was grateful for her presence. Also, she offered to let me use one of their rental cars for free while I was figuring out what I wanted to do...which was not only an awesome customer service move but also saved me a lot of money.

But what took this from a great car buying experience into the realm of a new friendship was this: The night I picked up the new car, a beautiful blue 2015 Civic, right after I signed the paperwork, Ericka gave me this:

The key is the original one; the "H" emblem and the "EX" came from the car itself.

Of course, the tears came instantly. We had bonded over our losses, but I certainly had not expected something like this.

It's pretty damn awesome when doing business turns into friendship.

Ericka: You Rock!

Me and Ericka—and my sweet new ride!