Friday, January 6, 2017

Year in review: 2016

I've been thinking of what I want to share here for a few weeks. I have seen and experienced so much in 2016 and it has taken me a long time to figure out how to share it all. I have more pictures than I know what to do with, more stories than you actually want to hear. I have been extremely blessed in 2016. I have also gone through the motions in a few areas. I suffer from occasional depression, and sometimes it gets the better of me. I haven't spent as much time with family and friends because of that, and in that aspect I wish I would have done better. I have also learned a lot about myself this past year; what I am capable of, where my emotions are, and what I really want out of life.

If you know me at all, you know I like to knit. I spend a fair amount of time doing it, thinking about doing it, planning projects, and buying yarn. I knit all sorts of things- my favourite things this past year have been shawls and scarves. I am cold a lot and shawls are great for layering and keeping cool air off California-girl skin. Also featured are baby bibs, the beginnings of a poncho, a blanket I knit for my dad, some decorative flowers, and a temperature blanket project I started last year (LAST YEAR, folks) and never finished. It's on my ever-growing to be knit list.

There is a delightful little yarn shop in Alexandria, VA called Fibre Space. I have the opportunity to be in Virginia several times a year and so, several times a year I traipse into Fibre Space and put my hands on every last skein of yarn in the place. I was tickled my first trip, I made my husband take a photo to share with my knitting group. Knitting goals for 2017: finish last year's temperature blanket and maybe start a new one; knit afghans for various folks; finish that sweater I started ages ago; tackle some techniques I've been too afraid to try. Oh, and reduce the number of WIPs (works in progress) I have lying about, tying up needles and collecting dust in baskets.

October of 2016 marked my one year anniversary with a volunteer group, Awesome Breastforms, which provides knit and crocheted prosthetic breastforms to women who have had mastectomy or lumpectomy surgeries. The breastforms we create are free to the recipient- volunteers take on all cost associated with creating and shipping the form; they are light-weight and comfortable- they don't pull the skin or put pressure on sensitive scar-tissue. These forms are made-to-order with love in every stitch.

As a volunteer, I have had some ups and downs. I've been in tears over my forms; our group insists on awesome quality, and sometimes my knitting just isn't up to being awesome. I've never fought so hard with a knitting project until working on these forms. The feedback our volunteers have gotten, personal letters from recipients, really shows how one small act of kindness can change a person's experience in the world. It is so uplifting and challenging and wonderful being a volunteer in this group.

Know someone who can benefit from our services? Want to become an Awesome Volunteer? Check out our website!

Our local news channel got wind of our volunteer group a couple years ago and each October -which is breast cancer awareness month- they send someone out to do a local interest piece. This year, I was invited along with a couple other ladies to join that interview. I never got my hands on the video, but here are a couple pictures of us during and after our interview.

It was exciting to be interviewed for television, but also really nerve-wracking. I do that nervous rambling non-stop babbling when I am socially uncomfortable, but thankfully the news editors cut all that out. To be a part of something like this, something that helps women feel better about their appearance in such a personal, private way is an amazing thing. It feels like a special bond to be able to provide something so valuable.

I am blessed to be surrounded by this amazing group of women. They have taught me so much about charity, friendship, and love.

In November I attended a conference called Time Out For Women with some friends from church. This conference is an event that focuses on uplifting spiritual messages from women who are facing the daily challenges of life in the gospel. This was my second time attending and I really can't even put into words what this experience does for me... there are talks from members of the church, some talking about their conversion stories and the challenges they've overcome; others talk about how their work and "church" life intersect; there is music and laughter and fun.

The girls in the picture with me are two amazing women - both examples of faith and endurance that I have so much respect for. Attending the conference with them, and the many other ward-mates and friends we run into there, was such a treat for me.

Among the festivities, we heard a talk about the refugees in our country and learned of some of the efforts our church and leaders are taking to support them. The LDS church has a humanitarian arm that funds education and community support efforts for those in need. The alphabet cards you see in the picture will be used to help teach incoming refugees English. We were asked to take a few and colour them in while we listened to the various talks.

In October I participated in a 5k to raise funds for suicide awareness. Many of you know that I lost my first husband to suicide, so this issue is one that is near to my heart. With the help of the friends whose names are listed on my crisp, white shirt, I raised $150 for suicide awareness. This money went directly to the foundation and helps to fund awareness campaigns for high-school children, counseling for survivors, and so many wonderful programs.

This was the first race I participated in by myself. I was nervous at first to be there alone, but by the end of it I had a handful of new friends. A group of ladies saw that I was by myself and surrounded me with their love and their laughter and their support. It's been 16 years since my loss, but the pain is still there and the kindness of those ladies was very special for me.

I was also moved by the support I received from friends and family and the money they donated. So many people helped me reach my goal, and others helped me spread the word in their own communities to help me fund-raise. It was touching to be part of that, and to feel that kindness from those around me.

In August I participated in the Portland to Coast relay race with 7 other women. Our team is the Pavement Princesses and we had the crowns and the tutus to prove it. I'm not going to lie, there were tears. There was also heat stroke, hurting body parts, dirt, and hunger. And there was laughter, camaraderie, friendships formed and re-kindled, and a light-heartedness that comes only with true exhaustion.

2016 was my third year; for the last two years, on the days leading up to the race I vow that *this* will be my last year. In 2015 I was truly done. Miserable, wet, cold, and tired, I wanted no part of it again. By the time I'm in the car on the way home though, I miss it. After I'm home and I've had a shower and a proper meal, settling down after being miserable for a day and a half, I can't help but want more. I haven't done any training for the past few months, but I'm looking forward to another year and another experience.

I've had an almost obsessive fascination with Australia for many years; I used to practice Buddhism, and there was one particular monk whose teachings really resonated with me- Ajahn Brahm (ajahn means "teacher"). He has a monastery in Serpentine, Western Australia. He has written several books and holds the title of "spiritual director" for various institutions. He's got this amazing sense of humour and teaching style that really made me feel connected to Buddhism.

Steve and I had an opportunity to visit Australia for work in April; we were there for 2 weeks and traveled to several areas-one of which was Perth, which is *really* close to Serpentine. We had some extra time on our last day in Perth so we went on a small sight-seeing trip. We found the LDS temple there and spent some time on the grounds before driving out to Ajahn Brahm's monastery for a quick visit. It had been a desire, what felt like an impossible pipe-dream, to someday visit that place. To walk those grounds, to meditate in a building that Ajahn Brahm himself built and had taught in. While I am no longer Buddhist, the teachings that I learned from him and from Buddhist spirituality have irrevocably shaped me into the person I am now, and I was in actual awe of that place. It was a deeply moving experience and it testified of the truth of the spirit of God to me.

Most of you know by now that we bought some land and are building a home. We've got 3 acres in Hockinson- enough room to build a nice house for ourselves and even better- a small house for my in-laws. Our kids are building a house in a couple acres two doors down so we'll have a good part of the family on one street!

I've been researching farm animals- we have decided on chickens, sheep, and goats. Maybe a horse in a year or two. I'm such a city girl, I'm not even sure where all these farming inclinations came from but I am beyond excited. I've been learning about all the things one can make with goat's milk and I can't wait to make goat's milk soap! We have big plans for our little farm and I am thrilled that we will have Steve's parents here with us. I married into this family late in life and so much has happened that I didn't get to experience. To have them close is such a blessing for me.

I'm looking forward to the hard work, getting dirty in my pasture, the family dinners, board games, kids and grandkids next door, gospel discussion. Sitting on the back deck, talking late into the night during the summer with only the stars for light... I never imagined myself living in the country and I can't wait to experience that adventure.

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