34 Things I’ve Learned in the Last Year

Today is my 34th birthday! Because I’m really cool, I like to celebrate by making a list of some of my favorite/most meaningful things I’ve learned or discovered in the year:

  1. Nut allergies are terrifying. On December 22nd of last year, we were playing cards with family during a holiday gathering and snacking while we waited for dinner. We handed Eli, who was 14 months old, a cashew. This resulted in a frantic trip to the ER, two EpiPen shots, and an overnight stay at the hospital. Turns out cashews and pistachios are a big no-no for our little guy.
  2. NaNoWriMo is super fun. November is National Novel Writing Month, and NaNoWriMo is an organized event where newbie and professional writers alike try to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. The timing had never worked out for me to participate, but last November it did. I was surprised by how much I loved it, and I hope to join in the fun another year.
  3. Insulated pants rock. The last pair I owned were the purple nylon jogging suit variety of the 90s, but that’s not what these are. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law gave me pants similar to these Prana Gondola pants for my birthday last year. I love that they look like normal pants, but are super warm and cut out tons of wind. Every cold winter day, I wear these when walking my kids to and from school.
  4. The heartbreak of death when the person doesn’t feel ready. My Nana passed away in December at age 91. She was my last living grandparent, and up until now, everyone close to me who has died has either been at peace with it, or they haven’t understood what’s happening. Nana refused to accept that this was the end, and it made dealing with a sad loss all the more challenging. I felt the pain of the missed opportunities as I went through jewelry and dolls that she had specified should be left to me. I would have loved to have known the stories behind those belongings and why she had kept them.
  5. Essentialism by Greg McKeown. For those who struggle with saying no, or with saying yes to right things, this is a great read. I don’t exactly struggle with telling people no, but I have struggled with guilt over it. Reading this book helped me release a lot of that.
  6. What it’s like to attend ALA. Going to the American Library Association conference has been a dream of mine for a while. My publisher flew me in to sign advanced reader copies (ARCs, to those in the biz) of The Lost Girl of Astor Street for librarians. Not only did I get to go and have loads of literary fun, but I also got to dress up like a flapper with my lovely editor, Jillian Manning.
  7. Loads about the Japanese Concentration Camps during World War II. In March, I listened to a two-part podcast on Stuff You Missed in History Class about Executive Order 9066. These episodes changed the course of my year. Learning about the camps left me feeling embarrassed and outraged. Also, being me, it sparked a story idea. Oddly, just a few weeks later, my editor asked, “Do you have any WWII era story ideas?”  So I’ve spent most of 2017 hard at work on Within These Lines (title subject to change), which will come out from Blink in early 2019.
  8. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Thanks to my upbringing, I’ve never struggled with needing permission from anyone to write. so I didn’t think this book would be very helpful to me. But I kept hearing writers rave about Big Magic, so I finally checked the audio book out at my library. There were so many wonderful insights to writing and creating that I bought myself a copy. (It’s written for adults, and that’s reflected in the language and examples. Just a word of caution if you’re a sensitive reader.)
  9. The unique beauty of the Southwest. Over spring break, my family explored Santa Fe, Sedona, Phoenix, and the Grand Canyon. It was the first time I had ever spent time in the southwest, and I absolutely loved it. I loved it so much that my husband and I are going back to Santa Fe in a few weeks to see stuff we missed the first time.
  10. Our trip to the southwest was inspired by our desire to see the Kansas City Royals play spring training games in Surprise, Arizona. We had an awesome time, though I learned that fans who come to spring training games are way worse about yelling at the players than regular season baseball fans. Maybe because the seats are so much closer to the players, so they feel like they can be heard better? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure professional baseball players already know they should “swing the bat,” as one fan oh-so-helpfully yelled.
  11. Little Hoots. This is an app that’s part Instagram, part scrapbook for your children’s memories. The privacy controls are great, and it’s a really fun way to record cute things your kids say.
  12. Kaleo. Way Down We Go is one of the rare songs that I loved from the first moment I heard it.
  13. The way a remodeling project takes over your entire life. Our house was built in 1968, and there have always been some VERY 1968 traits to it. Especially in our living room, where we had a very groovy wet bar closet thing and wooden paneling. We’ve been saving our pennies for years, and this year we finally pulled the trigger on having our family room remodeled. In a twist of unplanned events, the remodel got bumped up to the week after The Lost Girl of Astor Street released, which meant I was living in utter chaos during every radio interview, book signing, and speaking event during my promotion season.
    Before
    During
    What the rest of the house looked like during… Complete with our confused and nervous dog. (Not pictured, Eli’s constant crying when the very nice workers attempted to talk to him.)
    Completed. Ah…
    The former wet bar is now a much more useful TV cabinet

    Still finishing up the artwork, but here’s our reading corner.
  14. The kindness of park rangers. I’ve interacted with quite a few on trips to national parks, but I still felt super embarrassed when I sent an email to Manzanar National Park (Manzanar was a concentration camp during WWII) asking a couple of crazy research questions that I couldn’t find the answers to. After several weeks passed, I assumed my email had gone into some kind of black hole,. But then, a wonderful park ranger send me a lengthy response and included n attached map of the camp that the government made in the 1940s. She also offered to put a current brochure and map for Manzanar in the mail to me.
  15. The heartbreak of losing a pet. After twelve great years with our dog, KC, we had to make the hard decision to put him down this August. While I’ve had several dogs before, I’ve never had to do this part of dog ownership. Going into that room with him at the vet was brutal, as was coaching our two older children through the loss.
  16. The Solo devotional. After re-reading Jesus Calling for five years, I was ready for something new, and a friend recommended this one to me. I love reading scripture in a different translation than I normally do (the Message paraphrase) and I love the read/think/pray/live format for each day.
  17. The Brains On podcast for kids. My nine-year-old who’s into science loves this, and I learn a lot too.
  18. Cooking for a family of five. We were overjoyed that after a veerrrrryyyyy slow weaning process, Connor was able to get off the Ketogenic diet earlier this month. I can’t even put into words how freeing it feels to cook just one meal for all five of us. Here we are out to eat (without having to bring special food for anyone) for the first time in almost three years:
  19. Deep Work by Cal Newport. Like Essentialism, this is another one of those books that kept popping up in various circles. There’s lots of good stuff in this book, and it’s changed how I organize my writing time, and how I choose to use my phone. I highly recommend it!
  20. Giraffes don’t make audible noises. Isn’t that weird? Eli, my two-year-old, has a giraffe towel, and I kept telling him that giraffes bleated. But I finally looked it up. They don’t!
  21. The power of Brené Brown from the front row. I happened to have nothing on my schedule the morning at ALA when she spoke, so I woke up early, slammed down breakfast, and arrived an hour before her talk started so I would have a good seat. It was one of the first talks (maybe the first?) that she publicly gave on her new book Braving the Wilderness, and being there was a highlight of my summer!

    NO ZOOM, Y’ALL!!!
  22. A close up view of what aggressive cancer and chemotherapy look like. We’re walking that brutal road with my daddy right now as we try to find healing for his super aggressive, super rare cancer. To paraphrase Glennon Doyle Melton, it’s brutal and it’s beautiful all at once. It’s brutiful.
  23. The Hardcore History podcast. Great storytelling and no skimping on the details.
  24. That I should make really big goals.  While I’ve always been a goals person, I had this philosophy that you should only make goals that you can achieve with your own strength. During a road trip, my husband really challenged me on this and my perspective completely changed.
  25. Dig Down by Muse. Another song I fell in insta-love for. That only increased when I saw them perform it live this summer. And now I love it even more because it’s my two-year-old’s favorite song, and he sings it very enthusiastically.
  26. The unique tension of waiting for industry reviews. While The Lost Girl of Astor Street wasn’t my debut novel, it was my biggest release, and the first book that received reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Voya, School Library Journal, and others. Waiting for those to drop into my inbox filled me with anxiety and led to me doing a lot of chanting about how, “I am enough,” and “My job is to show up and be seen, not show up and be liked.” (All Brené Brown-isms.) Fortunately, even though they all had something critical to say (that’s their job as, you know, critics) all of them had good stuff too.
  27. Asking, “What kind of story do I want to tell?” This question was a gift to me from pastor Andy Stanley. It’s about looking at your circumstances and making choices that you will later be proud of. It’s not burying your head in the sand and denying hard things, but rather looking for what choices are available to you. When my toddler is grumpy and throwing fits all morning, do I want my story to be, “Eli was grumpy, and I yelled a lot and was in a bad mood all day,” or, “Eli was grumpy, and I chose to be patient and not let it ruin the good parts of the day”? I use this question so many times a day to guide my choices.
  28. What it’s like to be on Astor Street. Another perk of being invited to ALA this year is that it was in Chicago. While I spent hours “walking” Astor Street on Google Streetview, this was my first in-person visit. I wandered around and took all kinds of pictures, and I had a great time.
  29. How to Uber. This was the first year in a long time that I had traveled for business, and when my publicist suggested that Uber would be the best way to get back to the airport, I said, “Okay, great.” And then in the privacy of my hotel room, I called my dad and begged him to teach me how to Uber.  He assured me that it was very easy, and he was right. (Though I did get in the wrong Uber car the next morning. Something to be aware of if you’re leaving a convention and many others around you are Ubering.)
  30. The joy of receiving love and care from a best friend who lives far away. The first few weeks of school were brutal for us this year, starting with our dog and including some unexpected travel. My best friend lives in Maryland and couldn’t be here for me in the most literal sense of the word, but she didn’t let that stop her from showing how much she cared. She sent presents to each member of our family just to brighten up our week.
  31. What’s it like to be an aunt. I’m a big fan. Out of respect for my brother-in-law and sister-in-laws wishes I won’t include a picture, so you’ll just have to imagine me very happily holding a newborn. One that I don’t have to raise and can therefore spoil.
  32. The Backstory podcast. My husband told me about this one, and I loooove it. They take current headlines and deep dive into the history. Excellent stuff.
  33. Brie cheese. I’ve eaten Brie before this year, but something about 2017 had me wanting to eat Brie ALL THE TIME.
  34. A deeper comfort with making videos. You won’t see me on Facebook Live anytime soon, but recording the Go Teen Writers Live conversations has helped me to relax a bit when I have to do videos.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin my list of 35 things in anticipation for next year. What’s something you’ve learned or discovered recently?

7 comments on “34 Things I’ve Learned in the Last Year

  1. Great list. But terrible to hear about KC! We lost Maggie, his stunt double, too. We should plan matching dogs again some day ; )

  2. I love your list posts, Stephanie! Although I’m so sorry about your dog and your Nana. 🙁

    So glad you get to cook for five now, and your living room looks beautiful! Also, I haven’t yet had to learn to Uber either; good to know that confusion can happen!

    1. They make it as idiot-proof as they can. You’re told the color and kind of car that will pick you up, you can see the driver’s picture, and when they pull in they say, “Stephanie?” out their car window. But he called out to me from a noisy city street, and the name must have been close enough that I thought he said my name. And I was so nervous about the whole experience that I hadn’t paid close attention to the car/driver details, because it all happened very fast. Even the car that was actually their for me arrived within two minutes of me requesting the ride.

      I felt soooo stupid afterward because there were all these reasons why I should have known that wasn’t my ride, but my dad reassured me that it happens a lot when conferences finish up. He might have been lying, but that’s okay 🙂

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