It's both coincidental and not that the last post on this here website (7(!) months ago) was a reflection about how blessed we are. It would've been a good stand-in for the obligatory end-of-the-old-start-of-the-new year post, and I suppose still is, since everything I wrote about then is still true. But on the whole, 2013 was a hard year, and by the end, I wanted nothing more than to see it in my rearview mirror. Hence the dearth of posting.
I've had a lot to share. I have drafts of posts I never got the time to finish, loads and loads of pictures to upload, bentos pics to update, and of course Hall House projects to finish writing about. But things were busy, like they always are, and as the amount of things to post about built up, it started to become A Thing.
And then November happened. Well technically, the end of October to the end of November, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I was apprehensive about 2013 from the beginning, and as soon as I returned to work from the holidays, found out I had good reason to be. From the first day back, we were faced with some big challenges at the office that ended up taking months to resolve, a friend received terrible news, and it was looking increasingly likely that the plans I'd made for my milestone birthday would have to be cancelled. By the end of the first month, I had fired January altogether and put 2013 on notice.
Thankfully, my birthday plans didn't have to be cancelled, after all. I celebrated my 40th in several ways, with family and with Sal and with my own quiet little sojourn. And later, with the Albino, whose birthday is just a month after mine, and our mutual friend, Twinklebugs. A year in the making, we celebrated the entry into our fifth decade with a Girls' Weekend in Manzanita. We rented a house on the beach and when we weren't just staring out the windows, we were out on the sand and shopping and eating ridiculously good food and staying up very late talking.
Signs continued that 2013 might not be so bad after all. In April, I attended the first ever Swords for Scribes workshop put on by my friend Kim and her partner. I got to handle swords and machetes and rapiers, oh my, and practice three different sequences and learn all the awesomely gruesome physics of blades in battle. We then vanquished a melon army and watched a live duelling session between people who know what they're doing. I also learned that I am madly in love with the two-handed long sword.
Our summer technically kicked off in May, when we spent a long weekend at Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, which I planned to post about in yet another brilliantly-written-only-in my-head post. We lucked out with temps in the 80s all weekend and a cabin room with an unparalleled view. We dangled our feet in the water and snapped pics of an otter swimming around the dock and climbed the roots of an ancient Sitka spruce. We took an epic 5 mile trail hike, up ravines, past waterfalls, and through a wetland.
My mom and grandmother came out for a visit for five days at the end of May, and we ran them (gently) ragged, to rose gardens and the forestry museum, Powell's and a plant nursery. We enjoyed dinner at the OCI restaurant so Grandmother could eat the food Sal teaches his students to make, and we enjoyed dinner at our own humble kitchen so Grandmother could eat the food Sal masterfully creates. We made a trip down to my office, so she could see where I work at my "very grownup job". And we spent a significant time doing my Grandmother's favorite thing of all: Visiting. (My family doesn't just talk. We visit, which is talking taken to the level of an Olympic sport, because my family are world-class caliber visitors.) We started a list of the things we'll do during her next visit.
At the end of June, we took our summer vacation to Oceanside and enjoyed a nice bit of time off together. We celebrated our 17th anniversary in mid-July with a driveabout, something we hadn't done in a long time. Our destination? The Arctic Circle in Prineville so we could have a Bounty Burger and fry sauce like the ones we had at the Arctic Circle in our hometown back in the day.
Our driveabout led us to the Crooked River Canyon and we had the best, best day of adventure, windows rolled down and singing to our favorite road music at the top of our lungs and making it to a gas station juuuuuust in time on the way home. We capped off our wonderful day with a romantic dinner of takeout pizza by candlelight and talking until late into the night, hands held and maybe tears of gratitude a time or two.
(We made a similar nostalgic fast food daytrip on Labor Day weekend, this time to TriCities, which we'd never been to before but happens to be the nearest location of a Taco John's. Because sometimes, you just gotta drive three and a half hours for six pack and a pound.)
The beautiful weather that started in May continued almost unbroken through the first half of September, which is how I found out there really is such a thing as Summer SAD and wow, do I have every single symptom. If there ever was any doubt that the PNW is my homeland, this summer cleared that up definitively. I actually like summer okay, and Oregon summers are pleasant and mild for the most part. But I do battle insomnia and loss of appetite when the weather turns warmer and this year, they came with a low burn anxiety that had me agitated and restless by mid-August. But the rains finally came in mid-September and we crossed into blessedly cool and wonderful autumn at last. It took a few weeks, but I started to feel like my old self again.
Really, 2013 could've been an okay year, my struggles with the summer notwithstanding. But there had been one particular shadow casting a long silhouette across everything all year, and in the back of my mind, I knew something very hard was coming.
Back in January amidst all the work stuff, my dear friend and colleague and mentor, Geri, received terrible health news. The kind of news that measures time in weeks and not years. The kind of news that brings everything else to a stop. Two months, they said. Maybe three.
She leaped into a battle for more time. Not time for the sake of it, nor time increasingly occupied by specialists and last-ditch treatments. She was determined to have good, quality, make-the-most-of-it, leave-no-regrets time. And warrior that she was, she wrested eight extra months of time from that initial diagnosis and in true Geri fashion, she packed a whole lot of living into it.
I was one of many incredibly fortunate beneficiaries of that extra time so fiercely fought for. We met for lunch regularly and I visited her at home when treatments left her tired. We texted all the time. We played epic rounds of Word Feud and Draw Something until well past either of our bed times. She regaled me with tales of a life well-lived, of a fearless woman who blazed trails and kicked asses left, right, and center while wearing very fashionable footwear. I showed her whatever artwork I'd recently finished and told her all my funniest stories and caught her up on the latest goings on at the office. I got to visit with her and laugh with her and hug her and hold her hand. I got to make sure she knew, every time, how important she was to me.
Her partner very kindly notified me the morning she died, and my colleagues very kindly shouldered the responsibility of figuring out how best to notify our staff, and my husband very kindly asked me what did I need. It was a pretty fall day, season of my heart, all blue sky and autumn colors ablaze in technicolor intensity, the kind of day that's so brilliant your soul feels too small to contain it all, and as I sat looking out our kitchen window, I knew it was a day to be outside, breathing that air and digging in the earth, connecting to life in a profoundly simple way.
It's a tradition in my family to plant something to mark events and occasions and to remember those we love. A lilac for a mother's day, perhaps, maybe a pretty clematis for a birthday. A favorite rose bush to mark a great grandmother's passing, a silver leafed tree to mark a daughter's graduation, a willow for a significant anniversary. Geri was a gardener -- she would appreciate such a tradition. A tree would honor her well.
At the nursery, as we wandered among maples and oaks and birch and ash, I thought a lot about her, touching each trunk -- was this Geri's tree? This one? Maples are my favorite, but the birches kept drawing our attention. The birch is a symbol of renewal and strength, the first to leaf when spring hasn't yet taken firm hold, quick to repopulate after the ravages of fire. Resilient in times of adversity, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed, a symbol of hope and a reminder that the dark days will brighten. Yes, that was Geri.
We decided on a birch variety called 'royal frost', which has red and burgundy leaves in spring and summer, turning gold in fall, and striking salmon-colored bark until it matures. We made a prominent place for it in our back yard near the stump of the old apple tree we had to take down last year, tucked in among ferns and bleeding hearts and snowberries and heuchera. That pretty salmon bark stood out beautifully, the last few leaves burning dark burgundy against the late October sky. Damp dark earth, sharp scented bark mulch, a hummingbird hovering nearby as if to oversee our informal little ritual.
The serenity of that day became a touchpoint of calm in the weeks that followed. There was the office remodel that became both a logistical and scheduling headache, the abrupt demise of my laptop a week before my clients' websites needed their monthly updates, the scramble to get the house ready for an appraisal for a refinance that moved faster than expected. There was my granddad in the hospital, and a week later, my dad. My granddad's surgery went well, thankfully. Dad's surgery did, too, but there were complications and days of worry and frequent check-ins, waiting to hear if everything was going to be okay.
There was Geri's memorial. There were the hard days that followed.
There was a health scare for Smaug that saw us at Dove Lewis (emergency veterinary hospital) at 1 AM on a Monday night, where we waited for nearly five hours through a series of tests and scans, ending in inconclusive results and us returning home long enough for an hour nap before our regular vet opened for more tests.
There was me forgetting the disk with the scans from the hospital in the rush to get out the door, which meant Sal had to bring them to me instead of getting a couple of hours sleep before work, and all of that complicated by a financial snafu that threatened to derail the refinance, which Sal heroically straightened out while we waited for the vet. Afterward, there was a mad dash to the office for a meeting, still in my clothes from the night before and barely able to keep my eyes open. There was a text from Sal when I got out of my meeting that his laptop stopped working because of course it had.
Smaug's recovered, thankfully, from what turned out to be an e.coli infection. But she and Hobbes will be 18 in a few months, and she doesn't bounce back like she used to. They've been slowing down a bit this last year, but she seems to be aging quicker since this last incident. I have a feeling that this was probably our last Christmas with her, and as close as she and Hobbes are, wouldn't be surprised if he follows her soon after. They both seem okay, but something seems to have changed, and I feel like she's giving us little signs to prepare ourselves. Maybe for months, maybe for longer. Maybe not.
So we make extra extra sure to enjoy our time with them each day, and continue to be grateful for the many years of joy and immeasurable love they have brought into our lives. We will let them go gracefully and painlessly when their time comes, whenever it does. I don't know how I will face those days, or a home without their delightfully demented and crazed little selves. This is the price we pay for love.
But if the month of November was heavy with grief, it was not unrelenting. ProcrastiGirl got engaged and her obvious happiness is an infectious sort of joy. The appraisal exceeded our hopes, the refinance closed successfully, and we'll be able to start some long overdue projects soon. The laptops were replaced (after a not insignificant amount of sturm und drang, but compared to everything else, it's hardly worth a mention), and I was fortunate enough to borrow one from work in the meantime, managing through two months of client website updates without a hitch despite the disarray of our technology while we waited for our new laptops. Family and friends provided support and encouragement throughout the chaos. We squeezed in time for little diversions to relieve the stress. We enjoyed our annual Hall-Smiley Thanksgiving Extravaganza of laughter and fun and food and love.
And even after she was gone, Geri was still working her special magic. It was thanks in part to her that reconciliation came from an unexpected quarter, renewing a lost relationship. That loss was an old wound, deep, but long since moved past. But she healed it just the same, as if to remind me that she's still got her eye on me. On all of us. That was the kind of person she was, to have an impact on all the lives that surrounded hers. Renewal and strength, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed. Yes indeed, that's Geri.
Heading into December, I think 2013 decided we'd had enough. December came with spectacular bouts of fog and downright frigid temperatures, conjuring something akin to the winters we grew up with -- as close as you can get in the PNW, anyway --which it made it feel more festive somehow. We had some much-needed time off together, in which we baked cookies and listened to Christmas music and watched every single one of our Christmas movies. A few days before Christmas, we dressed up for a nice night out -- dinner at Veritable Quandary followed by the tree all lit up at Pioneer Courthouse Square and enjoying being out and about in our city all dressed up for the holiday. We went to all the movies we wanted to see and took walks through the neighborhood and brewed beer and spent time in the studio making glorious artistic messes.
Between Christmas and New Years', we made our winter pilgrimage to Oceanside, enjoying unusually warm days, a bit of sunshine, and the sounds of the waves soothing us to sleep at night. Sal found four intact sand dollars, the first time we've ever found one intact, let alone four, and that seems like a good omen. And we ended the year the same way we started it, with our Smiley family and all the little traditions we've created together for the last day and the first.
That's by no means all of our highlights -- nor all of our lowlights -- of the complicated year we've just put behind us, but they're the parts I wanted to share here, to memorialize. I won't remember 2013 fondly, but I do want to remember that so many good memories happened this year, too, and maybe 2013 was a lesson in taking comfort in those things amidst the difficult ones. To remember the symbolism of Geri's tree: of renewal and strength, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed.