Thursday, January 19, 2017

2016 | the year in review

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2017 is here. It sounds like such a futuristic number. 2017 is the year I will celebrate 20 years since I graduated from high school. (Omg.) I'm honestly not feeling super inspired about this year (or the next four, yikes) thanks to current politics in this country. The impending inauguration is filling my January with dread. But at the same time, I'm more motivated than ever to make a difference in 2017.

But first, let's take a look back at 2016. It seems a little silly to summarize a year that I didn't write about in the first place. My life has felt so routine and cyclical these past few years and I'm not sure how to shake myself out of this deep rut. I feel like I'm just rehashing the same things on this blog year after year. I only seem to share travel photos anymore and my travel posts are feeling too formulaic and also make my life seem like all we do is travel. But in reality, there are lots of hard everyday moments in between those incredible trips. I do miss writing and sharing photos, and most of all documenting my life, so I guess there's no time like the present to get back in the blogging saddle. While 2016 was a bit of a crap year for the world (and definitely for the U.S.), and a difficult year for me emotionally and business-wise, it was also a pretty awesome year of travel and hiking for Larry and me. There's good and bad to all years, though, and I'm thankful I had such incredible adventures to make up for the challenging times.

But back to reminiscing about 2016. We traveled a ton this year, both within the U.S. and internationally. Socially, we laid low and kept to ourselves. My three biggest personal accomplishments were hiking 100 miles, finishing a sketchbook, and reading 62 books, which is a good reminder that it's the simple pleasures that make a good life.

I actually started this post back in January 2016 and typed up a summary of each month throughout the year...until June, when I forgot about it. Dedication to habits long-term has never been my strength. Luckily, thanks to the world of social media and the thousands of unorganized photos on my computer, it's easy to go back and remember what we were doing each month...

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Netflix and sweet potatoes. That pretty much sums up how we spent January. Larry and I were still reeling after a difficult and emotional December. 2015 had been a tough year for us, and we were still in recovery mode. The one thing I usually love about January is making goals and planning out the year. But we really struggled with planning this year because 2016 was supposed to go in one direction, and it ended up going in another. Which in retrospect is what keeps life interesting, but at the time was very confusing and we felt a bit upside-down.

After eating like college students in December, we rediscovered our cooking mojo and ended up spending the month eating dozens of sweet potatoes (Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Potato and Tomato Sauce, Thai-Flavored Green Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Green Beans, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos), watching Netflix (we were hooked on Making a Murderer) and starting to make travel plans after scoring tickets to see Pearl Jam in Quebec City in the spring. Snowzilla hit at the end of the month and we holed up with a few cases of beer and a giant pack of TP. We cooked banh mi in multiples forms. My SnoBrum got snowed into the trunk of my car, so we dug out with a kick board. We made snow angels in the backyard. We celebrated a belated Christmas with Larry's family in Maryland and had Dad and Sheila over for a Christmas/New Year's dinner. I started an online book club with Veronika and Karen and laughed my face off as we critiqued/destroyed our first book pick. I had a painting in a local art show and attended the VIVID opening with friends.

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Our Virtual Book Club started reading Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart which led to both epic conversation (143 comments on our discussion thread- WHAT DOES IT EVEN MEAN?) and serious wanderlust. Larry and I took our first hike of the year with the pups on the A.T. in Maryland. We finally nailed down our plans for our annual anniversary trip and per usual, made the reservations at the last minute. We started talking about a summer trip to Scandinavia and tried to figure out how to squeeze in visiting Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands. Ha! We considered getting a reservation for dinner at Noma in Copenhagen before it closed at the end of the year. Ha, again! I spent a day in DC with my friends Jane and Lauree, drinking cocktails and marveling over the Wonder exhibit at the newly opened Renwick Gallery. Larry had a dream about me in which I exclaimed "I'm never partying with Elvis or drinking Old Crow again!" We went bowling and I got a high score of 141, which is about double what I usually bowl. (Should I add that to my list of accomplishments?!) We ate more banh mi. Larry non-surprised me with cupcakes on Valentine's Day. We celebrated our friend Jen's 40th/10th birthday on Leap Day. Our dryer broke as we were packing for our anniversary trip.

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We took our third anniversary trip to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. We relaxed at Sparrows Lodge, eating breakfast under the citrus trees, lounging by the pool, and spending the evenings in the hot tub. We only left the lodge to eat an anniversary dinner at Workshop. We stayed at an incredible modern cabin in the desert and hiked 9 miles to the Lost Palms Canyon Oasis. We saw a desert tortoise on the trail. I spent way too much time trying to photograph the perfect Joshua Tree. We listened to U2. We showered outside in a corrugated metal tube during a windstorm. We ate coconut cupcakes on our anniversary and sampled California beers. We saw incredible sunrises and the darkest night skies. We saw art installations at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum. We dreamed of buying cheap land, moving to the desert, and opening up a taco joint.

Back in Virginia, spring finally arrived. We went hiking, and visited wineries, and tried to get rid of our winter funks. We did a lot of laundry at my mom's house. We planned local excursions and goals for the rest of the year. We had an Easter picnic in the car with my mom. We started eating healthy again after our winter slump. I was frustrated with low-carb/vegan breakfast options and became obsessed with this recipe for awesome Blueberry Muffin Breakfast Cookies.

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I started swimming laps again (with my waterproof iPod) and meditating in the mornings and was feeling great and productive. For the first time ever, I crossed off all my To Dos on my weekly planner. We celebrated Mom's birthday on a beautiful spring day at Hillwood Gardens. We hiked Rose River Falls in Shenandoah National Park. I volunteered to help build the Raise/Raze re-ball art installation at the DC Underground with friends. (And then was unable to see the finished exhibit because tickets sold out immediately!) I struggled with some business decisions. I went back to the Wonder exhibit to marvel over the installations again and take photos. We saw our first concert of the year on April 1st - Caleb Caudle and Wrinkleneck Mules at Jammin Java. On the last day of the month, we drove north and stopped in Schroon Lake, New York for a night on the way to Canada.

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We spent a few days in Jacques-Cartier National Park in Quebec. We hiked over snow pack, stayed in a modern cabin, saw a moose, ate cheese (so much cheese!), and sat by the fire in the evening. We sampled Canadian beers. We met up with our friend Bryan in Quebec City, mangled the French language, ate poutine, and drank cocktails in the Hotel Frontenac. We saw Pearl Jam play at the Centre Videotron and survived the scariest cab ride of my life. We explored Montmorency Falls and took a culinary/alcohol driving tour of Ile d'Orleans, sampling wine, beer, cider, pastries, chocolate, and ice cream as we went.

Back in Virginia, I became enraged as the house across the street was torn down and construction began on a new McMansion to replace it. I read a memoir about Tokyo and became obsessed with Asian food. We finally replaced our washer and dryer after living without one for three months. We watched two baby foxes (and their mama) explore our yard for several weeks. I got locked out of the house for six hours. We began renovating my studio, and gave it a fresh coat of paint and built a giant bulletin board over Memorial Day weekend.

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We continued working on my studio reno, and then per usual, quit, mid-project. We celebrated Larry's birthday/Larrypalooza with several concerts: Nathaniel Rateliff and Lord Huron at Wolf Trap, and Frank Tuner, Jason Isbell, and Chris Stapleton at Merriweather Post. We took our first (and only) bike ride of the year. We hiked Big Schloss in George Washington National Forest - one of the best local hikes we've ever done. I started a sketchbook and a 100 day personal challenge, which I called #artandactive. We finally booked our trip to Iceland. Gravy killed a baby bunny while I was sitting in the yard drinking a beer. I got new eyeglasses for the first time in 13 years. Karen died and I checked out of society for a while.

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I made art and exercised every single day in July. We hiked Kennedy Peak and Wildcat Mountain and visited Creek's Edge Winery, Vanish Brewing Company, and Backroom Brewery. I got stung by a bee. We spent Saturday mornings at the farmers market. We bought tons of tomatoes and Larry worked on perfecting his Bloody Larry recipe. We had a picnic in Cherry Hill Park. I got a GoPro and practiced by taking a thousand fish-eye selfies of my big head using burst mode. I went to Belmar to visit my dad and we spent our days at the beach. I swam in the coldest water I've ever been in. In the mornings we read on the porch, ate fruit, and walked 4 miles down the Spring Lake Boardwalk. I convinced Dad to eat vegetarian sausage. I watched the Democratic National Convention and drew politicians in my sketchbook. Cory Booker liked my drawing of him on Instagram. We picked 9 pounds of blackberries.

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I ate all the blackberries. It was seriously Iron Chef Battle Blackberry in the Smoellke test kitchen, as I made everything from cocktails to pizza using our berry bounty. I spent many hours watching the Rio Olympics. I continued sketching and exercising every day for my #artandactive challenge, but quit after 77 consecutive days, because we went to Iceland...

A trip to Iceland had been on my bucket list for nearly 20 years. It was definitely the highlight of the month and the year. After surviving a huge travel snafu in getting over there, we had a wonderful time. We explored Reykjavik, and saw a local music festival at the Kex Hostel, where we discovered the music of the incredible Axel Flóvent. We soaked in the Blue Lagoon, saw hundreds of waterfalls and thousands of sheep, and hiked to a geothermal river. I fell on my face and nearly knocked my teeth out. I spent more time naked outside than I ever have. We ate tomato soup in a tomato greenhouse. We saw seals frolicking among icebergs. We walked on a glacier. We saw the Northern Lights and watched them shimmering overhead while soaking in a hot tub on the deck of our cabin.

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We had a few more days in Iceland. We saw the Northern Lights again. We hiked the famous Fimmvörduháls Trail. We took what I thought was a nature cruise and ended up being a death-defying ride on a speedboat. Back at home, I struggled with jet lag and post-vacation funk. We started hiking in Virginia again and visiting wineries afterwards. We went tubing on the Shenandoah River with our friend Bryan and a cooler full of beer. A new season of television started, and I got hooked on This Is Us.

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I completed my first embroidery project, became obsessed, and started several larger embroidery projects. We hiked some more. Gravy got hurt and we ended up leaving him at the e-vet while I sobbed at the pizza restaurant across the street. He was fine. We went to a Halloween party dressed as Yukon Cornelius and his Bumble. I dressed Gravy up as a sad martini using his cone of shame. I watched the presidential debates and felt enraged. We visited our nephew at West Virginia University and saw Frank Turner perform at a local club. Larry and Thomas gave me a tour of the campus and the engineering school. I was very excited to ride the PRT (personal rapid transit). We drank the bottle of Poizin zinfandel that I had been saving for six years. It was incredible.

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The beginning of November was abuzz with equal parts anxiety and excitement over the upcoming election. It was almost all I could think about. A few days before the election, we saw a snake in our yard - an ominous sign? On the evening of November 8th, we were frantically packing for a flight to New Mexico which left early the next day, but I still made time to bake a Hillary quiche for dinner and sit down to watch the election returns. As we all know, THINGS DID NOT GO AS EXPECTED. As the night hours became early morning, my worry switched to fear and then uncontrollable tears and despair. I got several bloody noses. I finally forced myself to lie in bed for an hour before my alarm went off to go to the airport. I'm not sure how I managed to finish packing for the trip, other than I got a case of the fuck-its, crammed some clothes in my suitcase, and said "Let's just get the f*** outta DC!" And at the time, I would've been ok not coming back. I considered driving from New Mexico to actual Mexico and saying adios to the USA forever. I'm still crushed by the election, but a little more level-headed these days. I am so thankful that we had to leave for a trip the next day because that escape was just what I needed. I found myself getting teary multiple times during our trip, but the foreign landscape of rural New Mexico and some good ol' nature therapy definitely gave me some separation from what was going on in DC.

In Santa Fe, I explored the art galleries on Canyon Road while Larry went to business meetings. At night, we sat by the fire in our kiva. We stuffed our faces with face-melting New Mexican food - I ordered Christmas chile on everything. We talked politics with some long-bearded guys at a bar. We headed north to a great little AirBnB cottage in Dixon. Our hosts were wonderful and brought us cookies. We hiked at Tent Rocks, Rio Grande del Norte, and Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch. I finally saw a Big Horn Sheep. In the evenings, we played Scrabble in the cottage. We visited wineries and ate green chile pizza at Mamacita's.

Back in Virginia, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at our friends' house. I made a pumpkin praline cheesecake. We hosted a birthday/chili party for our friend Mike. We went to the National Gallery of Art with my dad and had dinner afterwards at Montmartre. My obsession with embroidery continued, and I stitched until I started suffering from severe neck pain. Gravy got sick and gave us another scare. I made a video of our New Mexico trip using the 1 Second Everyday app.

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December is always an extremely difficult and stressful month for me. I tried to plan ahead this year to ward off the stress and emotions, but the month ended up walloping me anyway. I painted dozens of ornaments to raise money for charities. We kicked off our last hike of the year by eating vegan donuts at Glory Doughnuts, and then we hiked the A.T. to Annapolis Rock and completed our 100 mile challenge. We popped into The Bottom Line to drink beer under the Christmas lights. I burned a lot of scented candles. I changed my hair color. We saw our eighth concert of the year - The Weepies at The State Theatre. I celebrated my birthday with friends at Miracle on 7th Street and Right Proper Brewing Company. Larry took me on a dinner date at Equinox. I hung out with the Sara/hs and drank wine, ate cheese, and laughed my face off with my oldest friends. I made cookies. I finally replaced my four-year old, nearly inoperable iPhone. I failed to send out Christmas cards for the second year in a row. I started diapering my dog who started taking out his dissatisfaction with life on our carpet. I read my 62nd book of the year. We saw Manchester by the Sea in the theater and the Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Gardens. We ate spaghetti for Christmas dinner and hung out with the dogs. As usual, Larry and I gave each other almost identical gifts. We hosted a southern-themed New Year's Eve dinner party and burned old Christmas trees in the backyard. At midnight we toasted with Alabama Slammers, lamented the future of the U.S., and talked about where we'd go in 2017...
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little green field book said...

Ahhh! I'm still working on my Year in Photos (YIP) post, but haven't felt like blogging much lately (only holing up eating chocolate). I like keeping a long-running draft for the year. Maybe I'll try that on trips or during the week.

I feel like I only ever blog about our travels as well - and even then, only our shorter travels as it takes me years to get to all the photos of our longer trips. I'm setting a goal to get somewhat caught up this year which means I'll probably have to blog every day for the rest of my life.

I still go back and read those Thru-hiking comments because they always crack me up. The book was ok, but I loved the conversations that were sparked by reading it. I recently received the January issue of Backpacking magazine and thought of you and K. Its all about long hikes - AT, PCT etc. We should plan our NRATH one of these days. And build/set up little book kiosks/trail libraries along the way.

Funnelcloud Rachel said...

I want to get caught up with blogging this year, but it seems impossible and the backlog keeps piling up. This post may have been the most difficult post I've ever written. Well, not the writing part, but only choosing three photos per month was so challenging! But I did have to go through tons of photos which got me excited about blogging about Iceland and Joshua Tree and New Mexico.