I think by all accounts, 2014 was one of the worst years on record for me. By comparison, 2015 has been a dream, even with the bumps, bruises, and emotional roller-coasters that are the norm for making our way through Life. In some ways, 2015 has been a holding pattern and a waiting game, but in most respects I tried to pack as much as possible into 52 weeks, spending my time exploring, hanging out with friends, and soaking up every minute I had with Mr. Blue Eyes. While I’m excited for the coming year and all the challenges and triumphs, I am also a little sad to see 2015 close. So, I decided to come up with a “best of” list of some of my favorite things from the last twelve months.
Muir Woods, California, July 2015
Best Experiences of 2015:
Geez, I really don’t know how to narrow this down. However, I can say with confidence that the best times of my year have everything to do with spending time with the people I love.
- Adventures afar and nights at home in jammies with Blue Eyes.
- A 6-state Midwest road trip with a girlfriend.
- Spending a whole week as the full-time caregiver for my stepkids, it’s more time than I’ve ever spent with them, and a few hiccups aside, it went smashingly!
- A long weekend laughing with my best friend and her family in California.
- Book club, always and forever.
- Designing and costuming a competitive (and award-winning) Shakespeare team comprised of 50 teenagers with one of my oldest, best friends, for our 10th year running.
- Planning and executing back-to-back smash success events for work; one a giant professional development conference, the other a state-wide event for 20,000 high school students.
- Spending the evening with my four siblings, the first time we have been together in YEARS.
- Crashing with dear, dear friends for a couple weeks between moving all my things to Arizona and moving my actual self.
- The homemade welcome party that awaited me when I finally arrived here in Arizona.
Best Books of 2015:
Goodreads tells me that I read 111 books this year (!!), a total of 36,000 pages (for reference, my 2014 totals were 38 books and 13,000 pages). My shortest book was the Pulitzer Prize winning play Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley, the longest was the behemoth War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. My most frequently-read categories this year were Russian literature and history (especially of the Romanov family), feminism, and slavery and racism. I also read a number of books about North Korea, Darwin and evolution, elephant psychology, Joan of Arc, neuroscience and psychology, the Iranian Revolution, and China prior to/during Mao’s cultural revolution. Yes, I have eclectic taste. No, I won’t ever apologize for it.
- Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy is a master, and in my opinion, this is his best.
- Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
More than any other slave narrative, this one rips my heart out. Harriet’s anguish and turmoil over leaving her children behind, of rescuing her children, of keeping her family together, this will change you in all the right ways.
- The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan
Refugees, war-torn middle-east, historical context for the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and a lot of “Humans of New York” type stories and sharing from in-depth interviews on both sides. Absolutely recommended.
- The Martian, by Andy Weir
Hilarious, scientific-nerdy, perfection.
- The Master and Margarita, by Mikhaul Bulgakov
Magical realism and political satire in communist Russia? Gimme!
- Middlemarch, by George Eliot
This is why people like 19th century English literature.
- Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
This book is very much an acquired taste, but I loved it. Yes, even the 600 plus pages about the history of whaling, the anatomy of whales, the economy of whales, the works. Loved it.
- Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
So dark and moody! So delicious! I can’t believe I hadn’t read this one before.
- Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon
Dual-biography of early feminist icons from the 18th and 19th century? Yes, please!
- The She-Pope: a Quest for the Truth Behind the Mystery of Pope Joan, by Peter Stanford
Did you know a woman became Pope in the 11th century!? This story and the research to piece this story together are so fascinating!
- Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup
At times I am baffled that slavery existed in the United States, that humans were perfectly fine owning other humans. This book details some of the most monstrous atrocities and a few gentle kindnesses from white freemen to their black slaves.
Of these books, which should you read? Well, world events being what they are, I think you should read The Lemon Tree as soon as possible. It shows both sides of Arab and Jewish tension and the history behind it. Honestly, it made me much more sympathetic to both sides and the war-torn refugee people who are caught in the middle. If that isn’t your cup of tea, I’d definitely read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, a rare first-person slave narrative from a woman’s point of view.
Best Vacation of 2015:
This is probably a toss-up between an awesome road-trip across the Midwest with a girlfriend, and a delightfully low-key weekend in San Antonio with my sweetheart. Last January I had high hopes for a warm, international getaway, but more practical things like bills and buying a house and maintaining two households for 14 months took precedence. Hopefully 2016 will see a little passport action.
Best Photos of 2015:
I have had the chance to travel around to a number of different places this year, hauling my camera with me. Of the thousands and thousands of photos I snapped this year, these are probably my favorites, along with the others in this post.
Capitol Reef National Park, Apricot Orchard, March 2015
Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina, September 2015
San Antonio Botanical Gardens, agave teeth, November 2015
Best thing I learned:
You will never truly feel better about something until you do the work to actually change it. I’m sure some philosopher has said this much more eloquently and concisely, but I learned (or, re-learned, rather) that buckling down and getting my hands dirty and elbows greasy brings me an incredible amount of satisfaction. Granted, there are some things that we cannot change and must simply learn to work around or live with; I get that. What I’m saying is that we as humans are capable of an incredible amount of forward progression if we put our minds to it, pool resources, and reach out to friends and loved ones. Here’s to 2016, more forward and more progress.