Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy New Year!

I feel a wonderful sense of optimism as the new year begins. So many positive possibilities up ahead and I plan to make the most of them.

2009 was a terrific year in so many ways but not without it's challenges and sad times. The saddest for us was my husband's mother's death on November 10th. We had been given just a few weeks notice that her death was imminent after a decade long battle with leukemia. She was a very stoic woman and fought valiantly for years and managed to enjoy a good quality of life for many of those years. I still haven't fully processed the reality that she is no longer here with us on earth. I do believe that there is a life after this life and look forward to seeing her then, but for now, I find myself sometimes having conversations with her...just telling her (through my thoughts) what I would like for her to know about how her grandchildren are doing or to ask her what she thinks of a particular book (we shared a great love for our family and for books).

While our relationship wasn't perfect (what relationship is?), it evolved into something beautiful and mutually rewarding over the years. She was a very bold and outspoken woman who had strong opinions and an enormous sense of joy for life. It took me a few years to learn to speak my mind as honestly and openly as she spoke hers. I will always be grateful for the lessons she taught me in this regard. Also, I will always be grateful for the example she set of living an active and rich life. She loved to walk, square dance, and golf and continued to volunteer to serve others until the end of her life. My husband paid a lovely and moving tribute to his mother at the memorial service. She would have been touched. I love and her and I miss her and I plan, in tribute to her, to make the most of my life and encourage my children to do the same.

As I look back over 2009,the wildest dream I fulfilled during the year was to take a trip to Europe. I was born in England and had never been back to visit. My then 18 year old daughter and I traveled to Germany first to see my sister (whose husband was stationed in the military there until recently). We were thoroughly enchanted with the fairy-tale like villages, the mountains, the snow and how green it was even in the dead of winter. While in Germany, we traveled by train to Trier (the former northern outpost of the Roman Empire)and soaked in the sights.

From Germany, we traveled on a chartered tour bus through Switzerland to Italy and toured Pisa, Florence, Rome, Vatican City, Sorrento, Pompeii, the Isle of Capri, Naples, and Venice (all exquisite; we must have pinched ourselves a thousand times, we were so awestruck by the sights we much more amazing than we had imagined).

And then we traveled to England. I drove on the left side of the road. That alone was pretty crazy but driving on the "wrong side" of the road was not nearly as crazy as the traffic circles I had to drive through. In some countries you have a circular green space that defines the center of a traffic circle or roundabout, but in England it can be something as indistinct as a small white circle painted in the center of the intersection accompanied by very distinct rules that indicates who has right-of-way. It was crazy. We would be traveling on a major street and a car would come shooting out at us from a side street without any warning because there was a roundabout I hadn't noticed and they had right-of-way. Thankfully, we survived to tour the lovely counties of Essex and Suffolk by car. While there, we stayed in a medieval bed and breakfast (our friend Amy who was traveling with us kept saying "I feel like I am in a story book" during our B&B stay. We felt the same).

We also visited with friends in England who attend the church my family attended when I was little. They showed us a wonderful time. Two families invited us for dinner. One fixed us a proper American meal and the other fixed us a traditional English feast. When people tell me they can't stand English food, I tell them they haven't eaten at Becky's. Her father was a chef and her family ran a small hotel while she was growing up on the Cornwall coast. I have thought about that meal many times since.

After touring the countryside, we moved onto London and were unexpectedly bowled over by the city. So much to see. So much to do. It is a city that pulsates with energy. And transportation,once you figure out the tube and bus system, is a whiz. We toured every site possible in the few days we were there. One of the highlights of our time in London was seeing two plays on the West End: Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. Both were good but by the end of Les Miz we were absolutely speechless.

If you ever want to travel to any of these places, I hope you'll make a plan to do it. You will not be disappointed. We traveled very frugally but saw an astonishing amount. It helped that we traveled in the off-season (February) and that Europeans were so eager for American tourists. If you ever go to London and want some suggestions for where to stay and how to navigate the city, please let me know. I'd love to share what we learned.

As afar as 2010 goes, I'd love to head off to Europe again, especially with my husband and children. However, like so many I know, we are currently experiencing the downsides of a sagging economy. And I know we aren't the only ones. I was truly sobered recently when I received a Christmas letter from a friend mentioning that she (an engineer) and her husband (a marketing manager) had been laid off this past year in Austin. It is a challenging time for many. And so my goal for this year is to make the very best of things as they are while hoping and working for better.

My big goals for 2010: I plan to learn to play the piano and write a novel. Although a complete beginner on the piano, I've made some real progress already (although my children are tired of the simple songs I play over and over until I perfect them). As far as the novel goes, I've developed an outline and just about completed the first chapter. I am challenged but not overwhelmed (so far) by the process. I also plan to have fun with my family, mostly right here at home, but with some travels to see extended family (another trip to Europe will have to wait until I write that bestseller). I hope that my post finds you in good spirits and making the most of your new year. Best wishes to you. And a Happy New Year!

As I close, let me leave you with this thought: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

Love and Blessings,