At the end of 2022 I wrote myself a quick email to be delivered at the end of the year. It arrived in my inbox yesterday. I wrote briefly about "what's great right now" and "what's hard right now" and hoped for my future self that the hard stuff would be less so by this time.
And a few of the hard things do feel better! At this time last year we were carrying the disappointment of Chris not getting sabbatical which Chris has now processed and put behind him. I was eager to complete more finishing touches around the house and we did several this year. There were a couple of other personal things that are in better places now than they were a year ago. I mentioned some parenting challenges, mostly around Maeve's toddler behavior and navigating activities and family fun with a bigger age gap, and those things are maybe (maybe?) somewhat easier but still not easy. Honestly it felt a little deflating to read similar descriptions of parenting challenges and realize those haven't changed a lot. But, always the optimist, I am convinced that surely what this means is that this year we'll turn the corner and start experiencing a measure of parenting ease.
2023 had many good things, and some really hard things as well, including parenting challenges. But overall we're ending the year in a really good place and with most of the hard stuff of 2023 behind us (except the parenting challenges). Two of the hard things Chris experienced but of course your spouse's hard things are your as well. Now that both things are resolved and behind us I can write about them but while going through them I had no interest. One was Chris getting a misdiagnosis for a chronic condition which is technically pre-cancerous. That, understandably, caused a lot of health anxiety as well as several do-able but kind of annoying lifestyle changes. But then (!) we got a second opinion at Mayo Clinic and determined that Chris's original diagnosis was wrong! It was wonderful and very unexpected news and ultimately gave Chris somewhat of a "second chance at life" feeling. It feels really good to leave that whole experience behind us in 2023. I also have to take one moment to extol the incredible experience that we have had at Mayo Clinic at every step. I'm so thankful for their expert care and deeply grateful that they are within our health insurance network.
The other big thing that happened was that this spring Chris was offered a really exciting job in Portland, Oregon. We seriously considered accepting the job and moving but ultimately felt that it would be a risky financial move because Portland is so expensive compared to Gilbert. Ultimately I think we've found even more fulfillment in living in Gilbert after carefully considering moving, but we both mourned the path not taken for a while, especially Chris.
Whew! All of that makes the past year feel kind of heavy, even though we're ending the year in such a good place and can point to so many good and happy things from the past year. As we close 2023 and look to a new year I'm holding space for what was hard and appreciating how Chris and I supported each other through it all.
I'm going to try to wrap this up before the year closes so I'll share how I did on my goals this year along with a brief reflection.
Personal care & growth
I feel that I did a lot of personal growth this year through conversations, counseling, journaling, and reflecting. I'm thankful to be who I am and where I am, and look forward to continuing the journey. Also, I turned 40 and marked the milestone with a memorable trip to Santa Fe, a leisurely birthday being completely off duty, and sharing 39 favorites from the past year.
+ Read 80 books. I read 100 books this year! It was a really good reading year for me. My habit of always having an audiobook and a physical or Kindle book in progress is solidified. I love this habit because no matter what I'm doing, whether it's driving or chores around the house or sitting to eat lunch, I can read a book one way or another. Reading offers a respite from my full days and the time I spend reading represents time that I didn't spend scrolling social media or the news. (Follow me on Goodreads if you'd like to see what I'm reading throughout the year.)
+ Spend less time on Instagram and be very intentional about the way I use it. Overall yes. And helped I'm sure by all the reading I did. A few things I do to limit my Instagram use include having all Instagram notifications turned off (I've always done this with most apps), removing Instagram from my phone home screen, and creating Focus settings with time limits for Instagram. I also don't follow any brands or influencers who constantly create content, and I also have all Stories muted and even many posts.
This was a great health year for me and I'm carrying it forward into the new year. I really enjoyed working with a nutrition coach for two months this fall and made some tweaks to my eating habits to better fuel my body and exercise. I feel the strongest and fittest I ever have and being able to say that at 40 is not something I take for granted.
+ Break the habit of going to sleep listening to podcast or audiobooks. Not in the slightest, womp womp. I did try for a bit but I realized I don't actually feel very motivated to put in the work to make this change. I find so much comfort in listening to something while I fall asleep. I remember as a kid setting up my little tape player to listen to stories or Disney songs on cassette tape, so maybe I'm just wired for this habit. For now I'm letting go of changing this because it's a comfort and helps me go to sleep on my own which can take a while if I don't listen to something. Even if this isn't the most ideal habit I'll let myself have it. Of all the "bad" habits I could have this one is pretty innocuous!
+ Exercise 185 times. I crushed this one and worked out 210 times this year. A couple things that made a big difference: In October I increased my Orange Theory membership to unlimited, and with the kids all going to our neighborhood school I'm able to go to an extra Orange Theory class while Chris gets everyone to school. Achieving this goal is a reminder to me that big goals can take years of incremental progress. Eight years ago I was exercising one or two times per week, then consistently two times per week for a long time. I started the year averaging just over three workouts a week and now I'm averaging four.
Similar to my reading goal above, having this goal number is a fun way to track a habit that I want to be a "default" or normal part of my life. By default I want to always be reading such that I read 80 or more books per year. By default I want exercise to be such a regular part of my life that I workout 185 times or more in a year. Giving myself number goals and tracking throughout the year reinforces the good habits I want to keep. Plus, putting a tiny sticker on my workout chart brings me so much joy and satisfaction.
Parenting & Relationships
This category probably eclipsed all others this year for significance and effort invested. In parenting we potty trained Maeve (yay!) and transitioned Maeve to full time preschool at our neighborhood school (also yay!). We experienced the joys and challenges of our oldest becoming a tween. There have been some other parenting challenges that we have poured effort into and they are still hard. We had some really great family experiences and others that felt disappointing. At times this year I thought, "Wow, being a person is a lot sometimes!"
+ Understand my parent's care preferences for their later years. Yes! In November Chris and I had coffee with my parents about their will and trust and how they envision getting older. My parents have planned very well both financially and logistically and are so practical about it all. I'm deeply grateful for their thoughtful foresight and for being so open about everything. I'm really glad to have started this discussion and it's one that can continue as needed.
+ Seek family adventures and big kid family fun. Yes, but also want to keep seeking more in 2024. We took the boys to their first wedding. Our big trip this year was our spring break road trip to Utah when we also saw the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. We went hiking a few times during the nice weather and the farmers market a few times. I drove Dash to and from his first sleep away camp. I took the boys camping on my own with other moms and kids and we took our first family camping trip with Maeve in the fall. I'm so glad we did as much as we did! Honestly adventure and even family fun can still feel fairly challenging, either logistically with a toddler or from an attitude perspective (both tweens and toddler). Keeping expectations reasonable (i.e. low) and making sure there's at least one treat and abundant snacks involved are the lessons learned so far that I can recommend.
Good things happened in my work this year! Starting in late July I've had full school day work days and, what do you know, that has had a big impact on my work. On The Girl Next Door Podcast we produced more content than the previous year and grew our Patreon community. We had our graphics updated for The Girl Next Door and are close to completing a full website overhaul. I continued blogging and producing companion audioblogs, and I even launched my first workshop.
+ Complete a bigger writing project. Before the year was half-way through I decided to let go of this goal. But then, plot twist!, I had a great conversation in September with Sarah Hart-Unger who encouraged me to go for it. I did and Your Year to Shine: A Goals Workshop is the result! This project has been exciting, fun, and a good professional challenge. I'm looking forward to the workshop next Sunday (you can still register if you're interested!) and am already percolating the iterations I might make for next year's workshop.
+ Post more on my blog than last year. Yes, but only barely. This year I posted 38 times compared to last year's 33. I'd always love to be posting more but this is what my output is right now in this season and I'm proud of what I'm able to do.
Home & Finances
At the end of the year I'm loving our home more than ever and feeling very rooted in Gilbert (although I still look forward to eventually spending our summers in Eau Claire). We managed well another year of paying for life with three kids (which seems to feel more expensive all the time) while also saving. We're really looking forward to being done paying with preschool and paying off our car within the next two years.
+ Get involved in our everyday finances. Yes, but also no. For long stretches of the year I was really on top of tracking spending in Mint and communicating with Chris about our finances. And then I would completely fall off the radar. (Thank you to Chris who maintains steady commitment to tracking all of our dollars!) This is something I want to build on for 2024. Plus we'll be transitioning to a new budgeting software since Mint is shutting down. We'll likely try You Need A Budget since so many people have recommended it to me.
+ Continue creating a cozy, functional, and beautiful home that works for our family. Yes! We made so many great improvements in our home this year, many of them courtesy of Chris's woodworking skills and handiness, and I love our home more than I ever have. Chris built us cookbook shelves, a beautiful entryway bench, a shelf for our dining area, and just recently a sideboard for our great room. We also added a new chair, shelves, hooks, and rugs in the front room. And, after not having one for eight and a half years, a very big addition to our home is a television! We surprised the kids with it for Christmas. We decided we were ready to have one again because we want to easily enjoy family movie nights as well as be able to watch some shows and movies with the boys that we can bond over. Plus, it's always been my dream for televisions to be able to look like art while you aren't watching them and technology finally caught up.
Thank you so much for reading along this year! I hope you find some time to reflect on the past year, leave behind hard things if possible, celebrate what was great (even the small stuff), and look ahead to the new year with hope.