My 1 Favorite Me: 2019 in Review, and 2020 on the horizon (Twelve Days of Favorites, day 12)

by Jan 1, 2020

Welcome to day 12 of my Favorites of 2019, and I want to share with you, well, me. Today is the first day of 2020, and this is a bit of a look back at the last year and decade, along with some thoughts about my planning for 2020 and beyond.

As I write this, it’s Christmas day. We had breakfast to the Muppets Christmas Carol and opened presents to an ongoing tradition here of watching the Christmas Story. HO! HO! HO! We have a new tree this year, since the previous had electrical problems and we decided we just didn’t like it — we’d downsized from a huge, heavy tree to a 4′ one to simplify things, and in reality, that was too small. So we used the opportunity and we how have a 5.5′ tree, and it feels just about right.

I really found myself looking forward to Christmas this year, getting the gifts bought and shipped or wrapped early, and I was effectively done ten days ago.  The last few weeks I’ve been working to christmas music, and just generally enjoying the lead up to today.

It wasn’t always so…

Re-finding the love of Christmas

I grew up in Orange County, and my mom and dad lived in that house until they both passed on, dad in 2008 and mom in 2015. One constant: Christmas was for family, and attendance to the family abode for Christmas was not optional. This means, of course, that every year required organizing an expedition south, getting the kids into the kennel, making sure all the shopping and wrapping was done and sally forth for a week in Southern California, usually eating a week of vacation from work.

Which in general — not griping, because, well, family. And mostly it was fine. At some point we made the change from staying in the house to staying in a hotel — not without drama — so we had a little more privacy and space and quiet to unwind, and that helped. But after Dad passed, it was tough for Mom, and got tougher as she aged and got more frail. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, had a double mastectomy and seemed to recover fine, but the cancer had spread, and at some point she decided my sister and I didn’t need to know about that and so didn’t tell us (and ordered her doctors to lie about it).

So the last few years — mom was in increasing pain, but denying there was any problem. She lived at home, alone, headed towards 90 years old, mostly deaf and increasingly blind, insisting on living independently but increasingly unable to do that, except for a couple of the neighbors who took on much of the role of caregiver for her. Mom had long ago fixated on her indepence as being the most important thing in her life, so I got to spend the last few years trying to find that balance between making that work for her as well as I could and trying to make sure she was taking care of herself.

Christmas became that time of year when I’d show up, Mom would present her list of demands of things I had to do for her, I would explain which ones were not possible and which ones were simply not going to happen, she would casually mention removing me from her will, we would argue about her need for at least a part time helper, and basically, head off to neutral corners to stew and I’d try to not say anything I’d really regret. So it’s not surprising christmas became a time I didn’t look forward to, but instead started to stress out over and dread. The last few years were frankly rather rough, but we did what we could as well as we could.

2014 was bad enough I invented a head cold and left a couple of days early. When I arrived home, I had a letter from mom’s lawyer reminding me she had the right to remove me as her legal guardian for any reason she wanted. I let everyone know that was fine by me, and told mom I was taking some time off and she should call me when she needed me. I later found out she was telling others I didn’t love her any more and she was considering removing me from the will (again). Not a serious threat, but I think she was hoping I’d hear it from someone and have to come and grovel a bit or something so she could forgive me and dictate terms of surrender. Instead, I was working with the team at Cisco Live in San Diego, and was planning to stop by the house on the way home to patch things up, thinking I’d stayed in radio silence long enough. Instead, I got the call that she’d gone in the hospital and it was bad. I packed, told me team I was gone, and drove north to the hospital. She passed two days later.

So yeah, I kinda stopped enjoying Christmas, a casualty of me trying to do what mom needed, often over her loud objections, and fully understanding that her independence was both the thing keeping her alive and likely the thing that would kill her (I was wrong, it was the cancer), as she got increasingly frail and increasingly defensive about that independence. But, family. You take a few bullets because, well, family.

So as christmas in 2015 rolled around, my sister made noises about organizing the christmas get together. I told her we weren’t coming, which initially pissed her off, but I told her when she stopped and thought it through, she’d thank me, and that it was time for both of us to start building our own family traditions and not carrying on mom’s. (and in fact, she did thank me, once she thought it through and understood the impact of having to migrate to LA every year for a month meant). Christmas in 2015 Laurie and I did something we’d never been able to do: we spent it in Yosemite, enjoying the park in winter.

And every year since, we’ve talked about what we want to do for Christmas, and the answer has always been: stay home, relax and enjoy. So we have. Last year was the first year I didn’t feel the stress building after Thanksgiving. This year, I realized I was looking forward to it again.

Now, I do want to note that the challenge here was Mom having very specific ideas about her quality of life and being the point person for making things happen, and as she got deeper into the cancer that ultimately killed her and the pain that involved – while denying any of that existed to both myself and my sister – she became less willing to compromise, more demanding of my time and energy, and more hostile to disagreement. This, as many who have dealt with elder care, is not uncommon, and you have to figure out how to deal with it and stay sane. I think I navigated the best compromise I could and did the best I could for her given what she was willing to agree to. Christmas was, since it was a convenient time where I was local and in the house, collateral damage to the backlog of things we needed to argue over. It’s the fourth christmas since she passed away, and I still think of her often and miss her greatly, and remember all of the good gatherings quite fondly, but boy, I have to admit, waking up in my own bed and having a nice relaxing breakfast with Laurie sure is a good way to start a Christmas morning. I don’t miss organizing those missions to LA every December one bit.

Some Friendly Advice for families

I have some opinions on all of this, knowing full well the politics of the family gathering of the clans is beyond complicated and fraught with hurt emotions. But we’ll try to offer some ideas anyway.

If you’re the organizer of the gathering, and you have children spread away from the local area, realize they need to start their own family traditions, too. Demanding that everyone return to the gathering every year means your children have no time and space to start their own traditions, and what happens once the existing focal point is no longer there? And that mandate costs time, vacation hours, money for travel and (maybe) lodging. While the family gathering is an important event, the yearly mandate has a non-trivial chance of causing stress and resentment, and is that really what you want people to remember from these events? Sit down and talk to them, work out the compromise position — every other year? every third? It’ll depend on situations, distance, children and work situations, but the goal should be to figure out what works so that everyone is looking forward to the visit, not dreading it.

If you are the child, remember that some day — not of your own choosing — that gathering will not be there to go to any more, and don’t take it for granted. You need to build your own life and traditions, but family matters and you may not really understand that until it’s gone, and you don’t want to figure it out the hard way. That’s why you need to sit down and figure out what works for everyone, which may not be the easiest discussion to have but it’s necessary and healthy for the ongoing relationships.

To both sides, remember this is something that’s supposed to be a good thing, not an obligation, and be willing to find the compromises that work for everyone.

If you are one of my SoCal friends who were wondering why I might seem tight and grumpy when I was down there, or one of the more than a few that had a coffee chat cancelled at the last minute in the last few years, well, now you know why. Sorry, was doing the best I could. And by the way, I’ll be down in SoCal in January for a couple of days (also San Diego to do some birding), and my calendar is mostly open.

Okay, enough grumbling about Christmas’ past… What’s past is past, and onward.

2019 in Review

I’m exiting 2019 at about 340 pounds, down about 15, making five of the last six years losses and I’ve passed 75 pounds lost in total from my high. This is about what I weighed around age 40, and frankly, I’m only about half way to what I need to lose, but the weight loss is continuing and fairly consistent. I’m hoping to accelerate it in 2020, but we’ll see. Easier said than done. Overall, I’m in pretty good shape all things considered given the weight, except for the knees, and we continue to explore how to work with and around those as needed to do what I want to do. that included giving up trying to stretch my hiking distance and instead starting to explore using an e-bike to get around instead. That’s actually worked reasonably well although I haven’t gotten out as much as I want yet, between work and weather.

I turn 62 this July, which amazes me when I think about it, because there were many times in my life where I never thought I’d make it this far, and perhaps wished that to be so. But now I’m here, I’m comfortable in my own skin and happy, and I’m looking forward to more years of puttering around and exploring life around me.

I continue working at Farsight Security doing “things”, and I continue to really enjoy the work and the people. There are interesting challenges and I can see myself doing this a few more years before the siren call of retirement becomes irresistible. It’s nice working in a startup that not only talks about work/life balance, but lives it. They do exist, folks.

I exit feeling like I pulled things all together again, finally, after kind of being a mess from having to help Mom forward after we lost Dad, and then deal with her estate. I feel like things are back in a good rhythm and I really hope to carry that forward for the next few years. I’m happy with things overall, and with my writing, and photography, and birding, and pretty much everything but my knees. And we work around those as best we can. They can be the excuse for sitting back and leaving stuff for later, or the reason to push myself forward and test (and expands) my limits. For 2020: more pushing, less sitting back.

Photography 2019

After Mom passed away, I know I used my photography as therapy, and I can see I was doing a lot more shooting but I can see the quality dropping over 2016 and 2017. In 2018 things more or less fell apart, complicated with my sister being diagnosed with lung cancer and dying a few weeks later and I took rather few photos and even less that I liked. 2019 one of my goals was to get back at it and figure it out, and I feel like I did. My favorites of 2019 are the best set of images I’ve done in years. I finally took the gut check and signed up for Art Wolfe’s Olympic Park Photo retreat, and that was purely transformative for me (see my three part essay starting here for more). That workshop changed how I think about photography in many ways, from composition and subject matter to post processing, and I’m still noticing and understanding changes in how I use the camera that I can relate back to things I learned in those few days in Washington.

I enjoy my photography again, and that is by far the biggest change in my photography this year.

I did more writing about photography here this year, and I’m rather happy with the overall results. I’m looking to push that forward in 2020 and do more meaty topics and see what happens.

Birding 2019

I had a good birding year, given some time constraints that limited my going out at times during the year. I exit the year with a species list of 177, +5 from 2018 and plus 21 from 2017, with a life list of 298 species, +5 for the year (Cassin’s Vireo, Bell’s Vireo, Red Crossbill, Northwestern Crow, and Western Screech-Owl ((finally!))). Since one of my goals was to do more local birding, I ended the year at 137 species, +18 from 2018, and a county life list of 220, adding 3 new species (Cassin’s Vireo, Bell’s Vireo and Western Screech-Owl). My goal of doing a photo big year died early and painfully when my schedule crunches kept me at home and not out birding, but it was a laudible goa.

I’m now writing regularly for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Avocet newsletter, as well as a number of bits and bobs here. I continue to chair their Outreach committee and lead a few outings. As of now I have a couple of sits in Coyote Valley in January and February, as well as my annual group tour of Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Much to my surprise, I was doing some research on eBird for an article and realized I’m currently 13th for most species reported in Merced. For some reason that tickles my toes a bit that I’ve done that much there over the years. I’m also to my surprise 12th at San Luis NWR.

Expect to see me talking more about birds and doing more birding in 2020.

2020 Goals and Projects

My first goal for 2020: make it to 2021 happy and healthy. Everything else is an extra.

But beyond that, some things I want to do:

Continue with the weight loss: Can I push it to 25 pounds? Can I at least keep up with the 15? We’ll see. The knees and the diabetes complicate this, but I’ve been making some changes to hopefully sidestep the knees a bit; the e-bike is one to make it easier to get out and about, and we sold the treadmill when it became obvious my knees wouldn’t handle the mileage any more, and replaced it with a recumbent bike that should have much lower impact on the knees and legs. Now all I need to do is use it reliably.

More, better photos: Keep at it. shoot more often, shoot better.

Write consistently: headed into 2020 I’m putting the blog on a 3 articles a week (one written, 2 photos) schedule instead of 4, to free up a bit of time for longer, more deeply considered pieces rather than trying to fill the quota. 6FPS is doing well, but I’m putting it on a 6 week schedule for now since that feels like the right cadence, but I’d like to make that monthly sometime in 2020.

Travels: I’ve got a short trip scheduled in January down the california coast to San Diego where I’ll have a some time to bird on the way down, and 2 days in San Diego, followed by a couple of days down by the family place to deal with a bit of business and do some recreational exploring of orange county. I might, depending on how it works out, spend a day wandering Knott’s Berry Farm, just because I haven’t done that in a few decades.

After January, I have no idea what my travel plans are this year. I still want to get back to Yellowstone, I still don’t know when or how I’ll schedule that trip. I’m not currently planning a trip to Yosemite until maybe fall. I do want to get up into the Northwest at some point before summer for a couple of days, to do some exploring around Poulsbo for reasons I won’t go into quite yet, but we’ll see how that plays out. But there’s nothing firm and I don’t yet know where my company all hands will be this year, or when — and whether I can schedule something around that as well, especially if it’s within driving distance.

Beyond that? we were doing some house remodel work in 2018 until Sue got sick, and it got deferred and we’ve never gotten it going again. 2020 will be a good year to try to push that forward. I have some projects and plans I want to get going on, but many depend on this January trip to see what might be possible and what the timing might be, and none of it can be hinted at now. But if it all works out, it’ll be a nice set of things to be able to make happen.

Mostly, though, I think 2020 is about taking what I have and think right now, and carrying it forward into the future as far as I can as long as I can without screwing it up. And then slowing down and fixing it and getting back on the horse when the inevitable screwup happens anyway.

See you in 2020!