You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

In many cases, that’s a good thing. Sometimes it works out well to be semi-oblivious when embarking on something new, unknown, different, etc. If I let the unknown hold me back, I would not be where I am in life right now and while life is up and down, I’m largely in a good spot.

This morning, one of my Facebook memories was of my first foster, Nellie (fka Cindy) from four years ago.

I look back on that experience and realize I had absolutely no freaking clue what I was getting myself into. It’s not a secret that when I started volunteering with SNORT, I had no intentions of fostering. Lucy was still a puppy – probably around seven months old or so. Our apartment had space but it wasn’t huge. My job hours were nuts (and remained nuts for the next four-plus years). ­

I’m not even sure what prompted me to change my mind about fostering. Because Nellie was a puppy mill dog, there were no photos of her (the Amish don’t allow people on their property to take photos of dogs they are surrendering). There was zero information about her besides she was a puppy mill mama who was being given up because she could no longer have litters.

But something in me just had to take her in, so we did. I picked her up sight unseen on a super cold, cloudy, depressing January morning, took one look at her, thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into?!” And promptly fell head over heels in love.

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Meeting Nellie for the first time. Love at first sight.

Now with seven fosters under my belt (and hopefully more in the near future), I’ve come to realize there’s a whole list of things I didn’t know I didn’t know before I embarked on this adventure. I was clueless about a lot.

I Didn’t Know:
1. I had such high levels of empathy and patience.
Patience has never been my strong suit. It’s why I’ve remained up in the air about wanting to have kids. But my level of empathy and patience has been practically unlimited with each foster. I don’t even have that much patience with Lucy. But with the fosters? Sure, I got upset when they crapped on the carpet or flipped the heck out during thunderstorms and kept me up for hours. But the amount of poop I cleaned up or the time I spent in the bathroom with a certain foster (Isaac!) during thunderstorms rarely fazed me. I’m not saying I’ve become Mother Teresa, but I’ve learned I have a higher capacity for patience and empathy than I previously thought.

 

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This handsome boy was petrified of thunderstorms.

2. There was so much medical lingo to learn
Entropian. Cherry eye (which I actually learned about with Lucy). Interdigital cyst. Pyometra. Thyroid levels. Seasonal alopecia. Unexplained alopecia. Spina bifida. There isn’t a single foster I’ve had that hasn’t underdone surgery or had a major medical issue. Nellie – heartworm, lyme. Violet (fka Snowy) – spay, entropian, dry eye, bladder cancer scare. Buddy – neuter, dental. Isaac – puppy Prozac, alopecia. Novalee – spina bifida. Blossom – spay, dental (I think). Lady – spay, dental.

I don’t know everything, but I’ve sure learned a lot.

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Novalee had spina bifida but you never would have known it.

3. I’d have to learn to not be squeamish
No sooner had I laid eyes on Nellie than I realized she was leaking…down there. And not pee. It was a…thick goo. Leftover from an infection or a recent litter, probably. But that poor girl just left a trail of gunk everywhere she went for a few days/weeks.

Many fosters have not been housetrained so there’s been countless pee puddles and piles of poo to clean up. So much laundry. Wiping of all bodily areas. I’ve seen tons of incisions, ears filled with wax and countless eye boogers. And let’s not talk about post-surgery poo…

Novalee once ate an entire bag of raw almonds. Let’s just say it became quickly apparent she hadn’t chewed said almonds when she spent three days walking around inside our apartment like a giant pez dispenser of almonds.

I’ve developed a stronger stomach over the past few years.

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Buddy the Pug may have peed on me (and Lucy) a time or two. #maledogproblems

4. That I would handle adoptions better than I expected
Don’t get me wrong, I was a disaster when Nellie was adopted. And tears have been shed every single time a foster has been adopted. I miss them all. But I absolutely love the experience of fostering. It gives me a sense of purpose, something to keep me busy and selfishly, it feels so good be a part of saving a dog. If I had an unlimited budget and a bigger home, at least a few of these fosters would have probably wound up as “foster failures.” But I know going into each foster that I really can’t have two dogs – not enough money, not enough space – and that reality helps when it comes time to find a forever home for each foster. Now, there hasn’t been a foster in which I haven’t uttered the words, “I think I’ll keep him/her,” but deep down I’m fully aware it’s not the ideal option for either party involved.

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Lady, my first foster all on my own.

5. It’s a total team effort
Six of my seven fosters came when I was living with Marty. While the interest in fostering was 100% me, actually fostering was a different matter. When more than one person is impacted by taking on a foster, it becomes a team effort. Maybe not with the equal distribution of work and time, but each person in the home has some added responsibility and stress.

It also takes help from my employers – days I may need to leave early for a vet appointment or even take an entire day off to shuttle a dog to a vet appointment or surgery.

And travel impacts everyone – most holidays I’ve had a foster so that impacts every family we visit over the holidays. Each foster is different and because each was not my own nor raised as my own, their quirks don’t necessarily make them ideal houseguests. So it does indeed take a village.

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Backseat roadtrip buddies.

6. It’s stressful
I believe I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but it is stressful to bring a foster home. The days leading up bringing home a foster are anxiety-ridden. What will he/she be like? Will they like Lucy? Will Lucy like them (probably not). Are they housetrained (probably not)? Will they eat (probably not)? Where will they sleep? Are they super sick? And then once I get them home? What does that bark mean? Are they scared? Why don’t they lie down and sleep? Is that cough normal?

I’m an anxious person by nature so the early days surrounding a foster are really stressful for me. Everyone’s different but stress is one of the overriding emotions for me when I’m fostering.

I’ll never forget one of the biggest sources of anxiety with Nellie – she refused to eat. I tried everything. Dry food. Wet food. Chicken and rice. Wet and dry food mixed. Straight bouillon. Nothing worked. Until it was suggested from a fellow foster mom that she probably had no clue what a bowl was or how to eat out of it. So, I scooped some food into a super shallow frisbee and voila! She was eating like a champ. But I was just so stressed out during those first few days when I could not get her to eat.

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Making a mess; we soon progressed to a frisbee. Baby steps.

7. I would have a hard time saying “no”
I’m kind of a selfish person. Hence the reason I’m not sure I want kids. I like setting my own schedule (when work allows), taking naps on the weekends and essentially doing what I want to do when I want to do it. Fostering puts a crimp in that. Having a foster is double the work, often triple the work. After Nellie was adopted, we were going to take a break and reassess whether we wanted to foster again and how quickly. We’d had Nellie for about six months, I think, which is a pretty substantial amount of time. But roughly six weeks after her adoption, I got a phone call about Violet, saying she needed a new foster home and wondering if I was interested. “Yes” may have slipped out before I could give serious thought to it. Oops.

So despite being a self-proclaimed “selfish” person, I’ve found myself saying “yes” a lot more when it comes to fosters.

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I’m not quite sure how you say “no” to that face.

All of this is to say that fostering is a big (and important) commitment. But there isn’t a single foster experience I regret. Each dog has meant so much to me and I can’t emphasize how much the benefits outweigh the stressors.

St. Croix, Take II

Almost exactly two years after first vacationing in St. Croix, I was back again last week. My parents are down there for five (!) weeks; they usually spend roughly 10 days in St. Croix each time they visit but since my dad retired in April, they decided to stretch it to five weeks this time and I joined them for one of those weeks for my own vacation.
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And it was wonderful. A perfect mix of relaxation and exploration. I was there for a total of seven full days, including Father’s Day and my birthday, which made the whole week a bit more special. Of those seven days, four were beach days and three were touristy-type days which was the perfect mix.

The beaches were fantastic, as was the water, and the historic sights we visited were fascinating. I also must have read four books all in one week and went through wine just as quickly. Hey, it was vacation AND my birthday week.

My dad joined a gym down there and I tagged along with him for four of the days I was there (I have a CrossFit competition at the end of July so I couldn’t afford to slack on my training too much) and also dropped into the CrossFit box down there twice (shout-out to 340 CrossFit). Holy heck, no AC + CrossFit = near death. I have never, ever sweat so much in my life. And each time I went, running was involved, so in addition to lack of oxygen inside, we were subjected to ungodly hot temps outside. I still had a blast, though. It was CrossFit, after all!

All in all, it was so good to get away. I did not check work email once and was really able to disconnect and relax. Lots of time to reflect on the past year, especially on my birthday. Year 32 was the most eventful year I’ve probably ever had – some good, some not-so-good. I’ve taken steps forward in some areas of my life and steps back in others. Such is life, I suppose.

Anyway, here’s a photo dump of my wonderful week in St. Croix! And for those of you wondering, an update on what Lucy was up to while I was gone is at the end!

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Estate Mount Washington

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View from Hams Bluff

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Whim Plantation

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The only way you’d get me on a bike would be after stopping at the full bar

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And Lucy? She was being dog-sat by a wonderful friend who stepped up big time when I was in a pinch. Lucy had a blast and was spoiled beyond belief. She honestly didn’t seem all that excited to see me when I got back!

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Yes, a pool was bought for Lucy and the other resident dog. #spoileddogs

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Told you, spoiled

In a Funk

The past two weeks or so, I’ve been in a definite funk. Not sure if it’s the fact that vacation is so close but still so far. And while it is vacation and I. cannot. wait., there’s still stress involved – making arrangements for Lucy, traveling solo, packing, etc.

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Cannot wait to be back here.

I have managed my (diagnosed) depression well for quite a few years now but there are still ups and downs with the downs being probably a bit lower than the average person’s and this is just one of those down times.

But it also hit me the other day – I’ve been without a foster for just about three months now, one of my longest stretches. It’s been a conscious decision – I knew I needed to wait until after vacation – but fostering gives me such a sense of purpose; I feel lacking in purpose without a foster. So I am definitely going to foster again, I just have to find the right foster. I live in such a small apartment (680 square feet) that I’m limited to dogs who don’t need a ton of space and aren’t overly energetic (there is absolutely nowhere to burn off steam in this apartment and with it getting to be hot outside, outside time will be limited for short-nosed dogs for the foreseeable future!).

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Foster #6, Blossom. Her dad sent me this photo a few weeks ago – clearly living the life!

There are still far more good days than bad days and I am loving life in my new home. I feel more refreshed than I ever did at any point during the 10-plus years in my previous career field. To be blatantly honest, it’s wonderful not being the boss anymore! Some people are meant to be bosses and while I’m not saying I’ll never be a boss of anyone again, right now it’s so freaking nice to not be in charge of anyone.

And Lucy has, of course, kept me sane and happy. I just love spending my weekends with her and while she won’t show it, I think she likes our new arrangement.

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Celebrating National Best Friends Day.

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There’s been a lot of this going on.

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Spending lots of time outside.

Adventures with Lucy

Now that the weather is warmer, I’m trying to get out more to explore my “new” city. I moved here in the middle of November and so until now, the weather hasn’t really been conducive to outdoor activities. But, last weekend was absolutely perfect so Lucy and I explored a new dog park.

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The pitfall of having no snout? Inability to pick up a frisbee.

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I know, she’s beautiful.

The dog park is ridiculously nice. It is turf (a bonus after all the rain we’ve had) and has a big dog section and a small dog section. There are beautiful Adirondack chairs for the humans and a water feature that turns on in warmer weather – can’t wait to bring Lucy back in the summer to see her reaction to that!

As usual, she wasn’t so into playing with other dogs but made several trips up and down the park, basking in the human attention and pets. She was super content to roam and watch the other dogs.

On Wednesday, we had a post-op follow-up scheduled at the vet. Everything has healed great – now the question is what to do about her tooth around which the tumor grew? The tumor she had removed will almost certainly come back because it grew around that tooth and its ligaments ( didn’t know teeth had ligaments?); as long as that tooth and its ligaments are still there, the tumor will almost certainly re-grow.

Our vet sent her biopsy and x-rays to a specialist to determine if we remove the tooth and its ligaments now or wait for the tumor to re-grow. Either way it looks like we’re facing surgery relatively soon or down the road.

Fortunately, she adores the vet and while I absolutely do not want to put her under for surgery again, she handles surgery, anesthesia and recovery really well and is super happy to be at the vet.

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Ridiculously happy to be at the vet.

Because our appointment was late in the evening, I took her to work with me this afternoon so we could go right to the vet after work. She had a blast.

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Taking it all in at work.

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Pretty nice setup under my desk. 

Next weekend we go to New Jersey for a brief weekend visit with my parents so the adventures continue!

Two Dogs, One Apartment

Sorry for the gap between blogs. It’s been a really tough week personally so the blog took a backseat.

Lucy came back home about 10 days ago (I think?) and finally got to meet Lady. And, as with everything thus far with Lady, the meet and greet was seamless. SNORT recommends separating foster dogs from their fur siblings for the first few days in a new foster home but Lady had been here for 10 days already. Plus, in the few days before Lucy came home I’d been able to see Lady interact with other dogs and she was fine. She showed interest in other dogs but honestly that’s about it – no lunging toward them, no excited hopping around, certainly no aggression. Still, I was ready to separate them with a gate but that ended up being totally unnecessary.

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  Does this face look like she’d cause trouble?!

When Lucy walked in the apartment, there was some mutual sniffing between the dogs and then Lady went over to her bed in the corner and Lucy hopped up on the couch and that’s where they spent 90 percent of their first night together. And since. Lucy and I do play together on the floor most days and while Lady frequently comes over to inspect, she has no concept of play or interest in toys, gets bored quickly and retreats back to her bed.

The biggest change is getting myself out the door in the morning. I do as much prep as I can before my 5:30 a.m. CrossFit class but I have only an hour from when I get home from class until I leave for work so the process of taking care of two dogs (breakfast, potty breaks – usually multiple since neither dog will do all their business in one trip) and getting myself ready is going to need to be refined. But we’re making progress.

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Just an obligatory cute photo of Lucy.

The only negative is that Lady has severely regressed on her housetraining. Every day I come home from work either at lunch or at the end of the day and she’s peed. Sometimes twice a day. The obvious thought would be she’s marking her territory. Lady comes across as anything but an alpha female but the timing of her regression and Lucy coming back is too coincidental to rule it out. But if she is marking, she should be spayed soon and I’m really (really) hoping that ends the marking.

Also, Lady has completely come out of her shell. Don’t get me wrong, she still spends a lot of time in her bed, but she is so. freaking. happy. every time I walk in the door. She’s started hopping around and running in circles. It’s so heartwarming to see; it makes me realize how cruddy she felt (or how scared she was) when I first brought her home.

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Watching from afar as Lucy acts like a maniac.

And while she and Lucy aren’t best buddies, they co-exist perfectly. They each lounge on different ends of the couch while I’m gone, eat in separate areas with a zero issues and have their own go-to spaces in the apartment.

So, I have to say that the fostering-by-myself experiment is going better than I could have expected. If housetraining issues are my biggest concern, I’d say we’re all doing just fine!

The Last 24 Hours

It’s been almost exactly 24 hours since bringing Lady home and it’s been both eventful and wonderfully normal.

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Night one

SNORT arranged for me to meet the volunteer who got Lady out of shelter around 6 p.m. last night in Aberdeen, Md. Lady and I were on the road home around 6:15. Lady did not make a single peep when I loaded her into the car, buckled her seatbelt harness and began the 75-minute drive home. In fact, she immediately curled up in a ball on the seat and did not move for the entire drive. Seriously. At least four times during the drive home I turned my overhead lights on to make sure she was alive. She was that quiet and that still.

She wasted no time in pottying inside (#1 and #2, although I caught her mid-#2 and carried her to the door with poop nuggets leaving a trail behind us) but ate well for the most part which was a relief because she needed her meds. She was super itchy, though, so I chopped up 1/3 of a Zyrtec and put it on a spoon with peanut butter. She looked at me like I had two heads. Finally, I just placed the spoon on the ground to see what she’d do. She slowly walked over, took one lick then realized that shit was good and went back for more, finishing the PB and the Zyrtec!

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As we approached bedtime, I wanted to take her out but she wouldn’t actually go outside, so I broke out the bag of treats. I held a treat out for her but yet again, she looked at me like I was crazy. So, I put the treat on the floor and she slowly walked over, tasted it and then GOBBLED IT UP. Holy moly, I swear her eyes lit up. It was like she’d tasted doggy crack. Seriously. I reached out to clip on her leash and she searched my hands for more treats.

Fortunately, she largely slept through the night. She had several coughing fits but I checked on her midway through the night and she was fine. Not anxious, panting or circling – just curled up in a ball in her crate.

Day One

I woke up to a clean cage, she pottied (outside!) and got more magic treats. The rest of the morning was routine. I went to CrossFit, came back, fed her and took her out before work. She still takes some prompting to go outside but once I wave the Magic Treat Bag, she’s ready to go out. In fact, she did her first Happy Pug Dance when I broke out the treat bag! Melted my heart.

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She uses the food mat as a bed 😦

The big downer from today? I think Lady whined the entire time I was gone. Which was most of the day, minus when I went home for lunch. At lunchtime when I opened the outside door to my apartment building hallway, I thought I heard some noises but my neighbors have two very yappy dogs, so I thought it was them. But as I got closer to my apartment, the noises sounded different than the yappy dogs so I put my ear to my door – and I was 99% sure I heard Lady with the most gut-wrenching whining. At first I thought she might be hurt so I quickly opened the door but she wasn’t hurt – just scared, lonely or pissed. Or all three.

To be sure it was Lady I heard, when I left after lunch I stood outside my apartment door to listen. Thirty seconds later and the sad whining began. No doubt it’s her. I went back inside and put the radio on for her. It wasn’t stopping her whining when I left again for good, but I’m hopeful.

This whole thing just about killed me. She wasn’t super loud and it’s not that I’m worried about my neighbors so much (like I said, their dogs do nothing but yap all damn day). I just felt badly for her! She was fine in her crate last night by herself so either she was too tired to care last night or doesn’t like being alone. Once I’m sure she’s housetrained, I’ll try leaving her out of the crate for short periods and see if that helps. And if Lucy isn’t an ass, she may be the best solution we have – a constant companion for Lady during the day.

Lady has a vet appointment Friday evening. She came with meds for kennel cough and Lyme disease but definitely needs a good check-up. She only has 3-4 more nights of meds and her cough is still pretty bad. Her skin is also in rough shape; it’s not mange, but it’s more than just a case of the itchies as she has several patches of missing fur. I’m also curious to see how much weight the vet thinks she should gain; I’m guessing at least five pounds. She isn’t spayed and I know she’ll need to put on some serious weight before she can undergo surgery if that’s the route we ultimately take.

I can tell she’s getting a bit more comfortable but for the most part she just sits on one of our two dog mats and shakes. Probably a combination of scared and cold (I’m telling you, she’s scary skinny!). I also think she might be part Chihuahua. She’s definitely mixed with something that has a smaller frame than a pug and I know Chihuahuas are known to shake/shiver. But it breaks my heart. She looks so tiny and scared. But if we already got one happy pug dance out of her in just 12 hours, I know there’s more to come!

Four Years Ago…

Four years today ago my life changed in the biggest, best way possible. I brought home my first foster, Cindy (now Nellie).

Looking back on my blog posts from the first few weeks we had her, I had forgotten how much I didn’t know!

Cindy was a puppy mill mama to a “T,” and while they are the most rewarding fosters, they are also the most work, the most depressing (because of their pasts) and the most stressful. I had forgotten she refused to eat for the first few days, snapped at Lucy and had fluids leaking everywhere. I forgot she had no idea what toys were, what food bowls were and what a soft, comfy couch was.

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She was quite the complicated foster and yet from day one I was hooked. I can’t fully express how rewarding fostering her (and every other foster) was. It really hit home when she was adopted. We drove her to her forever home and after getting her settled with her new family, Marty and I got ready to leave. And then she followed us as we made our way to the front door. I remember sitting in my car and seeing her standing at the glass door watching us. It just about broke my heart and I cried the whole way home. But looking back on it I realize the fact that she wanted to follow “her” humans meant I did what I was supposed to do. I made her trust humans; I let her know people can be kind, unlike the humans from her past; I taught her what being a pet is.

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Cindy was the first of six fosters to date. The stress of the first few days with each foster always makes me question why I do it but then after we settle in a new routine, I wonder why I ever questioned my decision.

The rest of my fosters were equally rewarding:

Clearly I’m more than anxious to foster again but now that I’m living on my own in a teeny, tiny apartment, I need to wait for the right foster. My complex doesn’t allow bulldogs (I got in before that rule was passed, so Lucy is fine but I’m beyond annoyed) so I’ll have to wait for a pug or Boston from SNORT. I work further from home than at my previous job which is a negative but I do have weekends free so I know I can make it work. I won’t pretend it will be easy to foster and be in charge of the care for two dogs but I really need to foster again. I have a few hobbies but NONE bring me this level of fulfillment.

Happy Holidays

It’s 2017, so the holidays are officially over. I’ve said this many times before, but I absolutely love Christmas and this was a really good holiday.

Now that I’m no longer working in college athletics, I don’t get the full week off between Christmas and New Year’s so Marty and I crammed visits with both families over the course of just four days. It was busy but so, so good to see everyone.

Time for a picture overload:

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As usual, Marty and I spent New Year’s Eve doing nothing which is MORE than fine with me. I’ve never been a big New Year’s Eve person and I can’t even stay awake until 10 p.m., let alone midnight. We had a good weekend, though, with a brewery tour/tasting, some shopping and just much-needed time relaxing at my apartment.

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No New Year’s resolutions for me this year but I did see this insightful list of questions to ask yourself about LAST year. Looking at the past year can shape how you approach the new year, whether you set resolutions or not.

  1. What was the single best thing that happened to you this year? My new job. It’s not the most glamorous event but when all is said and done, it’s the best thing that happened.
  2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened? Changing jobs and moving.
  3. Pick three words to describe this past year. Challenging, exciting, stressful
  4. Who were your most valuable relationships with? Parents, as always. Marty. Marty and I have to really work at our relationship now since we no longer live and work together. It’s changed our relationship dynamic, that’s for sure.
  5. In what ways did you grow emotionally? I found myself living alone for the first time in five years and it was one of the parts of taking the new job that worried me most. But I’ve learned over the past six or seven weeks that I can be happy on my own.
  6. In what ways did you grow physically? Stronger and healthier. Fatter, too, if I have to be honest. But five pounds more than my “ideal” weight is still better than 30 pounds underweight (which is where I was really not all that long ago) so I’m working on accepting where I am right now.
  7. What was the most enjoyable part of your work? I changed jobs because I no longer liked my previous career; it was draining – physically and emotionally. Mostly emotionally. So the best part about my new job is that it’s all new. I’m learning every day and I like that aspect.
  8. What was the best way you used your time this past year? I disconnected more after work. Before I’d check my work email from the minute I left work until bedtime; this past year I tried (and was largely successful) to stop that habit. If an emergency came up, people knew how to reach me. It allowed me to actually relax when I was home. I read more than I have in  years, I took more walks and generally just enjoyed my down time more than previous years.
  9. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year? Change still isn’t easy for me but inevitably it’s good for me. I’d been stuck for six years (and was going through the motions in just about every part of my life) and even though I was unhappy, change scared the crap out of me. Taking this job was a leap for me but I knew in my gut it was the right leap to take.