Sunday, March 12, 2017

Looking back on 2016

Common themes in my Instagram best nine of 2016 - water, mountains, sunsets, Austin. Sounds about right.

On January 1, 2016, I felt like I was getting on a train ride that I didn't know where it would take me. I knew there would be some serious ups and downs, but couldn't picture the destination. I knew I would be in grad school in a new-to-me part of the United States -- but there were a lot of details missing from that picture.

And it turned out that the train was a rollercoaster (how far can I stretch this metaphor??) Because like a rollercoaster, I ended up in much the same place that I started -- still in DC, still at my job -- but my insides feel all different after the ride.
To recap-- January saw me submitting my last few graduate applications, then I heard back from schools when I was in Tunisia in February and March, decided on Fletcher in April, gave my notice at work in May and then accepted their offer of a promotion and a new portfolio if I deferred for a year. Over a summer of weddings and travel, we packed up our DC apartment and in August, we moved Austin to Cambridge for law school while I moved in with my parents. From October to December, I worked in southern Turkey on our programs in Syria. 
All in all it was a very good year for me personally (as much as that feels out of step with the mood of the country and the horror of a Trump presidency sneaking in at the end). While there were highs and lows, they were all in the service of growth.

Lessons learned

+ that I can trust myself to do the right thing when the right moment comes. I didn't consciously reference my word very often, but it was humming in the background. What I am taking away from 2016 is a deeper well of trust in myself, in my ability to make decisions and to steer my own life.

+ that while you can't control how people respond to you, you can act in a way that you can be proud of. I, like everyone else, am constantly learning that I can't control everything - but I have a new appreciation for the fact that I can put my best foot forward and let my satisfaction come from the knowledge that I did my best.

+ there is no "ready" and no "perfect time." This is a theme that came up repeatedly in conversations with my friends and Austin. Life is always going to be crazy, and it is only going to get crazier as we accumulate responsibilities. The things any of us want to do are always going to be at least a bit inconvenient. There is no sense in waiting for a quieter time or a more opportune moment to dive in.


Professionally, this was a good and busy year for me. I got promoted to a position that, for the first time in my career, does not have the words "intern" or "assistant" in the title. I authored (or played a major role in) two public opinion research reports. I took the lead on two major proposals that landed us more money. And I spent nearly three months working abroad in Tunisia and Turkey, the most in any year since I started this job. Like everyone, I sometimes get bogged down in the day-to-day and so it's cool to look back and realize that I'm now doing things I've wanted to do since the beginning of my career.

This was one of the funnest years ever. We went to four of our best friends' weddings, nicely spaced throughout the summer, and had a blast. While I feel like I worked more than ever before, I also took more vacation time.

New countries visited --  British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Cyprus. The fun part about these is that I would not have guessed them at the beginning of the year. And between the Caribbean and Cyprus, I visited eight islands total.


With everything else going on this year, I didn't too much creatively. Ironically, I did more blogging and creating even while balancing the grad school application process last year than I did this year, when I was excited to have more time and bandwidth for that. I am resolving to get back into the habit of finding little pockets of time to be creative because as referenced above, I am never going to magically have more time.

More miles, fewer races. I was 2/2 for signing up for races (the DC Rock and Roll half marathon and the St. Michaels Running Festival) and then being out of town and not running them. As I've done the last three years, I tried and failed to run 365 miles-- but I did run more miles (about 180) than I had since I started keeping track, so that was a win.


So long to 2016! You were a trip. And with more travel and a move to Boston (for real this time!) on the horizon, 2017 promises to match it for adventure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

26 favorite moments

In the midst of my belated end-of-year blogging, I remembered that my birthday was back in July and I had yet to publish my list of 26 favorite moments of 26. Compiling these is one of my favorite exercises each year. It's always interesting to see that some of the moments I thought would make the list - some of the flashy, big-headline, gotta-be-important moments - had faded into the background and quieter, sweeter memories had bubbled up in their place. 26 was a good one - full of a lot of growth and a lot of fun. (And no spoilers, but we're six months in and 27 just might top it.)

Drinking beer on the dock and reading Station Eleven in beautiful Northern Michigan.

A private ferris wheel ride in Newport Beach.

An extremely fancy sushi tasting in Newport Beach.

When Austin got startled by a sea lion and fell off his kayak in Newport Beach. 

Running across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge feeling strong. 

Walking on the beach in Mauritania feeling like I was on the edge of something big.

Submitting my second-to-last PhD application right before I got on a flight from Nouakchott to Paris and then the very last right before getting on the flight from Paris to DC and (most importantly) getting to watch in-flight movies guilt-free.

Watching home movies with my family on Christmas Eve. 

Finishing the daily card project strong... and realizing on January 1 that I did not have to make a card.

Trudging through the snow and listening to podcasts during #snowzilla.

Drinking at a wine bar, eating at Maketto, and brainstorming about the future on H Street.

Austin getting into Harvard Law and spending the weekend toasting him with visiting friends. 

Going to our favorite neighborhood Mexican place at midnight after Austin finished a long night on Trump (working to defeat Trump, that is).

Dinner clubs with my friends where we lingered after dinner with wine. 

Driving through the Tunisian countryside listening to Manazel (and many other songs, but that's the one I remember) on repeat.

Racing through a zombie book over solo dinners in Tunisia.

Learning about a full scholarship to graduate school (after a series of defeats on PhD programs) and laughing out loud to myself in my hotel room in Tunis.

The birthday/mini-bachelorette party/dinner party/night at Wonderland with my girlfriends before the first of us got married.

Submitting the first grant proposal that I drafted all by myself.

Getting wooed by my organization to defer grad school and stay for another year.

When the rain stopped and the clouds parted for Raf and Ashley's sunshiney wedding ceremony in Roanoke.

Every moment of being back in Vermont - especially driving up Route 7 to Vergennes, drinking on a dock by sparkly Lake Champlain, and learning that there was a Bloody Mary bar at the post-wedding brunch.

Singing along to Like a Prayer at the top of my lungs with my best high school and college friends... at three separate weddings.

When the lights dimmed and the opening bars of Hamilton played at the Richard Rodgers theater. (Not to call it too early but that could possibly be the top moment of my 20s.)

Listening to Mashrou' Leila play an old favorite, Fasateen, the day after the Orlando club shooting.

That first day in St. John's, jumping in the Jeep, driving on the left side of the road, and happening to plunk down at one of the best beaches in the Caribbean.
PS: 25 favorite moments are here and the original idea was borrowed from here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

'twas the season

A busy couple of months mean I am behind on that sacred rite of the blogosphere-- a recap of the last year and some goal-setting for the next. But first, December deserves a post of its own. Because oh man, December, you were one of the crazier months in recent memory and a fitting end to a full year. One that was somehow both packed with work but also full of travel and time off. One that will forevermore be my benchmark of how much can happen in a month and a reminder that busyness has the magical property of making time stretch.

On December 1, I submitted my application to the Harvard Kennedy School, then took off for a lovely solo weekend in North Cyprus - one of the few places you can reach by a direct flight from Gaziantep. The next weekend, I spent 24 hours in Istanbul for a policy forum for work and a few days after that, flew back from Gaziantep to DC. Austin came to down for a few days, then I celebrated Christmas in southern California with my family, then flew back to DC for a packed workweek between Christmas and New Years, then flew up to Boston so Austin and I could drive out to the Cape to ring in the New Year with the Countdown Cod.  In total, I took 12 flights, one of which involved extended questioning by US Customs and Border Control and three of which landed me with an SSSS (Secondary Security Screening Selection) on my boarding pass and patdowns by TSA, thanks to extra scrutiny on travelers to southern Turkey.

This marks the third year that I've spent a good chunk of December abroad - Tunisia in 2014, Mauritania in 2015, Turkey in 2016. (And as crazy as that feels, it's even crazier that if I stick with the grad school plan, that won't be my life next year.) And all throughout the season, I felt the familiar tension between home & away, the desire to lean in to adventure at the same time that I crave a cozy nest. I was a little bummed that I didn't have a chance to keep up my own little Christmas traditions this year, though equally glad that I didn't wait until life was more stable to start those. In that spirit, I was totally delighted to buy a grocery store poinsettia to enjoy for all of five days in my apartment in Turkey.

One of these days, I will have a cozy December at home, full of Christmas shopping, cookie baking, and ugly sweater parties. But I believe that life is long and, as long as we don't get stuck, there is plenty of time for everything we want to do. The flipside of missing the lead-up to "Christmastime in the city" this year is that I got to spend a weekend in the rolling hills of North Cyprus and to do some truly cool stuff professionally. I am grateful for all of it.