It’s still January (barely) so there’s still time for me to make some New Year’s Resolutions, right?
This year, I want to:
- Go to the gym at least 10 times per month
- Finish my scene-by-scene outline for the second draft of Coven Hill
- Finalize all of the backgrounds for episode one of Rise of the Hidden Sun
- Finish up the episode one animation sequences, too
- Take the kids to Europe, if our finances allow it
- Completely redo my online travel writing portfolio
- Organize the family photos dating back to 2007
- Repaint at least half the rooms in our house
So there: Some creative stuff, some around-the-house stuff, and a couple of personal or family enrichment goals.
I’ll let you know how I did when next January rolls around.
So 2011 is finally here, but before I put 2010 completely behind me, I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass to take a few minutes to reflect on the year that was. In a nutshell: Last year began badly but ended well, and in-between there were many little trials and triumphs.
The story of 2010 really begins with the end of 2009. I’ll never forget that Christmas Eve, alone in my living room watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” after Penny and the kids had gone to sleep. The mysterious back and abdominal pain that had plagued me all through 2006 and 2007 had returned, and it was joined by a new and even more disabling pain in my arms and wrists. I had to take an extended leave from work, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to return, let alone live a normal life. The doctors I saw seemed to have no clue. Things felt very bleak, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (cheesy though it is) stirred up all kinds of emotions in me about my life, my personal goals, and what would happen to my family if I didn’t get better. So it was a difficult time for me.
I muddled through the early part of the year at home and work, just tryintg to “get by,” and I bounced from doctor to doctor at Lahey Clinic and Tufts Medical Center without any relief. They threw all kinds of potential diagnoses at me, a couple of them pretty scary, and I rang up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. But there was nothing definitive and no real prescriptive course for how I could get better.
But then I went for another opinion, this time at Massachusetts General Hospital, and things quickly and thankfully began to turn around.
Within weeks, MGH had gotten to the bottom of many of the problems I’ve had for years. Two badly misaligned joints—the sacrum and the pubic symphysis, if you’re at all interested—were the original cause of my lower body pain, and could be easily fixed. (Somehow a legion of doctors, including orthopedists and osteopaths who really should have known better, had missed this over the years.) The other half of the equation was Thoracic Outlet Syndrome—basically some nerve compression around my shoulders—which accounted for much of the arm and wrist pain. It was brought on by my body overcompensating in other areas for years and years.
Since September of 2010 I’ve been going to physical therapy twice a week and doing stretching and strengthening exercises at home, and I’m already feeling much better. But because I was compensating for pain all over my body caused by the misaligned joints, it’s now a longer slog toward getting completely better than it would have been if this had all been discovered years ago, as it should have been. It’s a great start, though, and for the first time in a while I’m actually hopeful. It feels good.
Meanwhile, the world turns, the kids keep growing, and life goes on. Here are some of the highlights of 2010:
I guess you could call 2010 the “Year of the Tornado” for Ethan. My three-year-old has fallen in love with wild weather. Tornados, specifically, but lightning storms and hurricanes, too—any kind of extreme natural phenomenon, really.
It took me three weekends and two failed attempts, but I somehow built a 144-square-foot outdoor movie screen for the back yard and my third annual Outdoor Movie Night. This year we screened “The Princess Bride” with about 30 friends. It was awesome, but I have even bigger plans for 2011.
Shortly after I got into the physical therapy program at MGH, I was able to start working, slowly, on the second draft of my novel. It still needs a lot of work, but that’s another area where I have bigger plans in 2011.
Ethan started pre-school three days a week, and he loves it.
I took the kids to the family cabin in Maine, by myself, for the first time while Penny was at a conference in Texas. I love it up there. Happy to say the kids do, too.
We vacationed at a rental house near Balch Lake, New Hampshire, over the Fourth of July, with Penny’s parents. Great time. Ethan learned to fish.
I made it to two Patriots game this year, both wins. My first Monday Night Football game: Patriots 45, Jets 3.
We took the kids to their first hockey game, a victory by my beloved Merrimack Warriors!
We totally gutted our basement and added 500 square feet of finished living space: a TV room, play room, laundry room, bathroom, and office.
On the career front, I didn’t do much writing, but one article that I co-authored was picked up for syndication by several national media outlets, including Yahoo, which put it on its homepage for a day. It was a fun story to write, too.
The year ended with a trip to upstate New York to visit family and see Niagara Falls. Ethan’s excitement alone was worth the nine-hour drive.
A few other odds and ends:
The best book I read this year was “In the Woods” by Tana French (followed closely by French’s “The Likeness” and “Faithful Place”). Other enjoyable books: “The Passage” by Justin Cronin; “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann; “The Monster of Florence” by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi; “World Made by Hand” by James Howard Kunstler; “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss; and “Hotel Pastis” and “A Good Year” by Peter Mayle. I also finished re-reading Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn,” which has to be one of the top five epic fantasy series ever written.
It’s hard to believe, but I only got the movie theater twice in 2010, and that was to see “Avatar” and the Disney movie “Tangled” with Ethan and his cousins. Best movie I saw on DVD was “The Kids Are All Right.”
Favorite TV show: “The Walking Dead” on AMC. Also good: “Fringe,” “Castle,” “Life Unexpected,” and “Modern Family.”
And I think that’s a wrap on 2010! Here’s to a healthy, happy, and productive 2011.
A year ago at this time I posted a list of 10 things I was looking forward to in 2008. Before I look ahead to 2009, I thought it would be fun to see how each of those things from 2008 turned out.
1. Ethan’s first birthday. This was as amazing and magical as I’d imagined. I’m looking forward to his second birthday with even more enthusiasm!
2. The New England Patriots Invitational Tournament. Also known as the NFL Playoffs, this one didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped or expected. But ah well, 18-1 is almost as good as 19-0. Right? Nah, not really. Alas.
3. Getting healthy. Sadly, this one’s still a work in progress.
4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In a word: Awesome.
5. Easter Island. I did indeed make it to Easter Island last March, and it was a great experience. Lingering health issues were kind of a drag on the trip, though, and I would much rather have traveled there with Penny and Ethan than go solo like I did.
6. Spider-Man: Brand New Day. The Spidey comics went from monthly to three times a month and featured an all-new, all-not-married status quo for Peter Parker. And, by and large, it was a great year for the character. I’m still jazzed about the series as we head into year two of the new era.
7. Creating… something. Last year was to be the one where I finally made some headway on either Rise of the Hidden Sun or my young adult novel. I chose the novel and managed to get about 45,000 words into it before losing steam around Thanksgiving. So, not a success but not an out-and-out failure, either. A work in progress.
8. New TV shows. I was really looking forward to Jericho (returning from the dead) and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Jericho only lasted seven episodes but tied up most of the loose ends nicely, and Terminator started well, then got a bit spotty before coming on very strong here in season two. Here’s hoping for a season three pickup in 2009.
9. The Red Sox in Japan. Wow, I completely forgot this even happened. It was a neat little sideshow at the time but, ultimately, not all that big a deal. I’m more likely to remember the Sox losing game 7 of the ALCS than anything about their time in Japan.
10. Climbing a mountain. This finally happened in October during our vacation to Acadia National Park. It was a wimpy little mountain, but the views were spectacular and it felt grea to be back outdoors. Maybe 2009 will be the year where I finally get back into hiking the way I’d like to, though.
Here’s one more picture of Ethan from our Acadia vacation. I finally got around to downloading it from my cell phone. It’s pretty low-res, but I still think he’s super cute.
Where: Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland, England
When: July 2003
What: Two thousand years ago, a 10-foot-tall and 70-mile-long stone wall loomed over the undulating hills of northern England, built at the order of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to keep the savage Scots from raiding and pillaging Roman territory to the south. Today, the remains of Hadrian’s Wall form the largest ancient structure in all of Northern Europe. This photo shows the path alongside the wall as it winds toward a series of crags called the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall, seen here in the distance towering above the pond.
Here’s how I described the experience of walking here in one of my American Adventurer columns from last year: “A ragged mist swallows the rolling hills and checkerboard farmland ahead of me. An icy wind whips at the hood of my jacket. I’m alone today, a solitary hiker following in the footsteps of history, and this is just what I came for: a bleak and breezy walk along the ruined skeleton of England’s most impressive ancient monument.”
I’ve never been wholly satisfied with that description, though. I think it’s because I wasn’t able to use my column to talk about why I really chose this walk. I mean, who among SmarterTravel’s bargain hunting readers would actually care about the personal crisis I was going through in 2003?
But here I can talk about it all I want, and this is what I wanted to say: I was at a crossroads in my life in the summer of ’03, and Hadrian’s Wall is one of the places I went in search of the proper road to take next. Penny and I were separated and I was living on my own for the first time since college. I took six weeks off from work and went to Europe that summer to find myself, and I was drawn to Hadrian’s Wall because it gave me the opportunity to take long, solitary walks in the moody countryside near the Scottish border.
There was something wonderfully anonymous about “following in the footsteps of history.” I took comfort in the idea that 2,000 years ago there might have been someone else standing near that wall, feeling homesick and confused, and wondering what to do with his life. It helped me keep my own problems in perspective. Melodramatic, probably, but it is what it is.
Anyone who knows me today knows that Penny and I eventually got back together, moved to Cambridge for two years and then to Beverly, where we now own a house and have started a family. But back in 2003 that outcome seemed improbable at best.
This is the trek that began the long process of helping me work through what was going on in my heart, and I think I’ll always look back on it with a kind of bittersweet nostalgia. It wasn’t a straight line from there to reconcilation, after all, and things would only get worse between us before they’d eventually get better.
So yeah, bittersweet, for sure. But it was still a hell of a walk.
Quietly, and with little fanfare here on the blog, I’ve reinvented the adventure column I started writing for SmarterTravel and USA Today way back in 2004. As of this month, The American Adventurer will focus on deals and discounts rather than destination-focused travelogues. (Those I’ll save for my freelance work.) Here’s a snippet from the first installment in this periodic new series.
The morning mist clears high in the Peruvian Andes, and at last you see it: Machu Picchu. You’re sweaty, you’re muddy, you’re tired—and you couldn’t be happier. You’ve arrived after four hard days of hiking, and while you know there are all kinds of ways to see this fabled lost city, you’re sure now that there’s only one way to really earn it. What’s adventure travel all about, you wonder, if not putting everything you’ve got into reaching your goal?
Well, maybe not everything. You, after all, paid hundreds less than everyone else in your group for the right to reach Machu Picchu, because you knew that some adventure travel operators offer big discounts on “late availability” departures: scheduled trips that still have spaces available.
It’s not a new concept in the travel industry—airlines have been doing it for years—but last-minute discounts are still a relatively untapped source of savings for most adventure travelers. This year, why not skip that boring “staycation” and consider one of these great deals instead?
Read the rest, including the five deals I picked out this month, here.
Last Sunday we packed up the car and headed west to the Berkshires for a good old-fashioned Griswald family vacation. We spent a week in a tiny little cabin at the Mohawk Trail State Forest, six of us in all, and had a wonderful time.
The six of us were: me, Penny, Ethan, our nephew Tyler, and Penny’s mom and dad. There was hiking, swimming, kayaking, reading, card games, campfires, and roasted marshmallows. Lots and lots of roasted marshmallows.
I was also able to take a week off from the actual writing of my novel and instead play around with some plot issues that have been giving me fits lately. The resulting solution—arrived at during one of those wonderful Eureka moments sometime late Saturday night/Sunday morning—helped me fix a story element that’s been bugging me for a long time. So, it was fun and productive.
And now here are the pictures.