Friday, December 23, 2016

2016: the year in review.

If you ask most anyone, 2016 has been a rough year.

From Orlando to Zika to Brexit to the deaths of so many icons (David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen... need I go on?), 2016 has been a rough one.

And, oh yeah, the election.


So 2016 hasn't been the greatest for us as a whole.

But personally?

2016 was kind of awesome.

Before I tell you why my 2016 was pretty great, I first must explain my definition of success. To me, success doesn't mean more money or a nicer house or a fancier car. If that's how I saw success, then 2016 would be a flop, as none of those things happened for me. But you know what? That's fine. James and I have jobs we love. We have everything we need, and we even have many things we want. Sure, there were a few times this year that we surely did wish for more money (like when both of our cars needed four new tires within months of each other... that was kind of shitty). But if that's our biggest problem, then we should consider ourselves so very fortunate.

To be honest, it's taken some time for me to feel this way. I see people all around me with nice houses (double garage! more than one bathroom! porches and decks and patios!) and fancy cars (heated seats! Bluetooth!), huge diamond rings and designer handbags, and I surely am not beyond longing for those things. But I finally stopped to think about it: James and I COULD have those things. We surely could, but here's what we would have to give up:

Our adventures.

That's what we choose to spend our money on, instead of a bigger house or nicer cars. And I wouldn't trade our adventures for anything.

And that is how I have come to view success not in terms of money, but in terms of experiences. If I can sit back at the end of the year and say that I've had twelve months full of great experiences and adventures, then it's been a successful year.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

2016 was off to an amazing start, as we rang in the new year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. 
It was absolutely amazing: we sat outside in our tank tops and shorts, feeling the warm sea breeze and anticipating the coming year. Jamaica was a positively glorious vacation, and I can still feel the sand between my toes.

February can be brutal in the Midwest. It's still deathly cold and dark, and even though you know spring is coming, it's still just out of reach. It's also still snowy, so travel is usually out of the question. James and I did make it to the cities for Valentine's Day, and we celebrated with my parents and cousins at Gasthof's.

March was the first occurrence of what we are hoping to make a regular event: the cousin trip. 
Last year, my grandma Sheila got all her kids and almost all her grandkids together for a big reunion, and we twenty-something cousins had a really great time. The cousins discussed having a cousin reunion, and though it sounded amazing, it seemed like it might be one of those "YEAH let's do this but due to scheduling impossibilities it will likely never happen" kind of things. But it HAPPENED. All six of us met in Boston for St Patrick's Day, and we had a blast. We hung out in this ridiculous bar in Charlestown, we walked the Freedom Trail, we rode the Harbor Ferry, and we got to spend some real quality time together. It was too wonderful to adequately describe. March was also the month that two of my photographs were published in a book - so that was pretty cool. :)

April was a great month. My birthday is in April, and since I am a child, I take the day off from work each year – because who wants to work on their birthday? James and I traveled to Omaha to see Mumford and Sons in concert, which was just as fantastic as one would think. 
Also in April, I was invited to speak at UMM, my alma mater – a huge honor. I talked to current and graduation art history majors about my experiences after college: from interning to an actual paying job. 
At the end of April, James and I went with Mom and Dad to Kansas City to see the Twins play the Royals. This has turned into a new tradition, which I am SO into. I love Kansas City, and that first baseball game of the season is a harbinger of summer and good things to come.

To me, May has always been a month of hope. The snow is DONE (though there have been a few years when we’ve had snow in May, but I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen), and things are warming up. It’s safe to ditch your winter coat, and it’s time to start digging out your sandals. May is when we truly break out of our winter cocoons and embrace the changing seasons. James gets out of school in May, and that means summer James is on the way: summer James is so happy and delightful, and he’s truly a pleasure. (Not that school year James isn’t those things, but summer James is THE BEST.) May holds the Tulip Festival in Orange City, which is another newly minted tradition. James’s band marches there every year, and Mom and I have been able to go together for the past few years. We look at the tulips and watch the parade and eat poffertjes

June marks the start of cabin season on Lake Poinsett, which is my absolute favorite. I love Lake Poinsett more than anywhere else on earth, and I wish I could spend every waking moment there. This Lake Poinsett season brought a huge revelation: sea glass. 
Or, more accurately, beach glass. Mom and I were roaming the beach in June, and she came across some beach glass (which is pieces of glass that have been tumbled around by the water – the edges have been smoothed, and the glass is typically opaque). I mentioned that I’d never found beach glass on Lake Poinsett – and that was just the beginning. From that point until the end of beach season, we combed for beach glass. I thought that I could try my hand at making some of the glass into necklaces: revelation #2. From that very first batch until now, I’ve made at least thirty necklaces from Lake Poinsett beach glass. I wear mine all the time, and it’s like having a little piece of Lake Poinsett close to my heart at all times. June was also the one and only time James and I managed to go river tubing, which a favorite summer pastime. We went to the Apple River in Wisconsin, floated on the river, and drank beer. Seriously: perfect summer activity.

People joke that James and I don’t ever stay at home in the summer, and that is the honest truth. Any spare moment we have, we’re out and going. Summer is precious to us, and we’re going to make every minute worthwhile. After all, we have all winter to sit at home. July found us spending the Fourth of July weekend in northern Minnesota. We camped in Duluth, went white water rafting on the St Louis River, and drove a ways up the North Shore to see Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse – my first time seeing either of those Minnesota landmarks. 
It was at this moment when I truly fell in love with the North Shore. In mid-July, we went to a Twins game in Minneapolis with our friends Mike and Ashley. James is not as into baseball as I am, and while I am no super-fan, I feel like going to a Twins game at Target Field is an integral part of the Minnesotan summer experience. 
Mid-July also holds Luverne’s annual Hot Dog Night (area businesses give away free hot dogs), which – for the fourth year running – has brought my family to Luverne. After YEARS of meaning to, James and I were finally able to visit my cousins Ethan and Sheri in Fergus Falls. They are two of the most delightful human beings you will ever meet, and we laughed until we thought we might die. July 27th was our three-year wedding anniversary, and since it was a weeknight, we celebrated by eating at La Azteca in Worthington (the best Mexican restaurant EVER – I know you don’t believe me because it’s in Minnesota,  but honestly, give it a try – you won’t be sorry) and kayaking on Lake Okabena.

August was the busiest and best month of all 2016. James and I decided early on that we’re going to celebrate our anniversary each summer by traveling to a different state/states. In 2014, we went to the Black Hills. 2015 took us to Colorado. 2016 was our most ambitious trip yet: Niagara Falls. We were gone for eight days, and we traveled through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ontario, and New York. We spent time in Chicago, the American and Canadian sides Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Toronto, the Upper Peninsula of Michican, Mackinac Island, and Door County, Wisconsin. We stopped at all five Great Lakes. We camped in a tent every night but one (when we stayed with our friend Lisa near Toronto – we met her in Jamaica!). We ziplined alongside Niagara Falls. We rode the Maid of the Mist. We had Tim Horton’s almost every day. We hiked and explored and enjoyed nature and life. We put thousands of miles on our car and ourselves. We have never felt happier and freer. 
August was also my grandma Sheila’s 85th birthday party, which involved a shrimp boil, the Nick’s hamburger wagon, and time with some of my favorite cousins. 
August was also when we discovered the most delicious taco truck in Pipestone, so that was a big deal. At the end of August, James and I went with our friends Nate and Taylor to northern Minnesota. 
And I mean NORTHERN: we stayed at a cabin on Gunflint Lake, and the other side of the lake was Canada. I fell even more in love with northern Minnesota on this trip: we hiked Blueberry Hill and thought we were going to get eaten by bears, we actually SAW a bear (from the car), and we hiked the most gorgeous bluffs and saw the most gorgeous lakes. We saw SO many waterfalls, and we explored the most beautiful places - Tettegouche State Park, Palisade Head, Grand Marais, Sugarloaf Cove. Once again, nature astounds.

September saw James heading back to school, and that meant the start of my third year volunteering in the Ellsworth Elementary School library. 
Let me tell you: that's the best job. I get to come in twice a month and read to the kids, and they are the greatest. James turned 30 on September 20th, and thanks to the overwhelming response from family and friends, I put together a photo garland full of birthday greetings for him. James claims that being 30 is awesome. At the end of September, I got to attend my first ever library conference, and it was pretty amazing. It was in Watertown, so I stayed with my parents that evening and spent part of the beautiful September night (finally) learning how to skip rocks.

October was yet another outstanding month, thanks mostly to my love of all things Halloween. At the beginning of the month, Mom and I traveled to the Black Hills to participate in the Crazy Horse Volksmarch - a six-mile hike up to Crazy Horse and back. 
It was about 80 degrees that day, and it was a hell of a hike, but what a view at the top. We spent the rest of the weekend exploring, and I got to see Spearfish Canyon in the fall. AMAZING. James and I went to the cities for the Zombie Pub Crawl in the middle of the month, and we spent the whole next day among the beautiful fall leaves in Minneapolis. 
Then there was Hobo Days - the weather was so perfect that we were actually HOT. From there, James and I went north and visited Sica Hollow and spent the night in a camper cabin at Pickerel Lake State Park. 
Let me tell you: camper cabins are a hidden gem. They’re heated and adorable, and we had our own little spot on a hill overlooking Pickerel Lake. Lastly, Halloween: James and I dressed as zombie Prince and David Bowie (respectively) for the Sioux Falls Zombie Walk. 
On Halloween itself, James dressed as a penguin and I as Scarlett O’Hara, and we spent the evening with our friends Joe and Allison in all our costumed glory. 
James installed my very own Little Free Library in October: a long-time dream of mine. 
October also was the five-year anniversary of this blog. WHOA.

November can bite me.
(Ok, fine, November wasn’t all bad: beautiful weather, combine rides, a kickass Thanksgiving dinner, and voting for the first ever female presidential candidate were the redeeming factors. The REST of November can bite me.)

And now it’s December. The first weekend of December was the fourth annual Norwegian Christmas dinner, which is the best food I (or any of us) will have all year. Then, my entire family went to Arizona to see my sister Darrah graduate from ASU. 
It was a much-needed reprieve from the terrible winter wasteland of the Midwest, and all five of us hadn’t been together since Jamaica. Along with seeing Darrah graduate, we got to hang out with the super fun Arizona Jarvies, hike around Papago Park at sunset, and take a helicopter ride over Sedona. SO AWESOME.


So… that’s what we’ve been up to in 2016. This reads much more like a Christmas letter than I had intended, but what do you do.

You’ll notice that nearly all of my notable 2016 events involve travel. James and I love to travel. My family loves to travel. Travel is our favorite thing. However, we had plenty of good times relatively close to home, as well. We spent tons of time on the beach and Lake Poinsett, which meant tons of time laughing with our family and friends. We kayaked, went on bike rides, hiked, took a billion pictures of our cat, and went to concerts and drive-in movies. James and I had good years at work (not to brag or anything, but I was just awarded “funniest Christmas sweater” at the library, so feel free to reevaluate your career goals), and we had a good year together.

And now we're almost to a brand new year. Politically, 2017 is going to be a rough one. We know that, and we're bracing ourselves. But if my personal life in 2017 can be anything like my life in 2016, then I see some good things ahead.

Thanks for sticking with me through all of this. You guys are the best. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or whatever you celebrate - and the best possible 2017 to you.