Well, this is it. The last day in December, and with thirty successful entries behind me it’s time to look way back. This is New Years Eve, and one of the things about running a blog for over half a decade is that eventually things become habitual — repeatable — traditional, even.
One of my favorite regulars has been the New Years Reflection Post, a collection of retrospective questions on the past year meant to ‘milestone’ the passage of time. As this is becoming something of a tradition, I made up a permanent page (link here) to explain the history and the rules (in case you want to play along). Basically this; a list of questions — the list doesn’t change much — and I answer them every year around New Years. ‘Nuf said.
Thus, without further adieu, here is the official end-of-2007 bradgarten Third Annual New Years Eve List-Thingy! (Now longer that EVER before. Go have a bathroom break before you start reading. You’re gonna need it.)
What did you do in 2007 that you\’d never done before?
It is probably fair to say as I take a stab at the first question on this list that most of my answers for most of these questions could probably quite easily revolve around fatherhood. I’m not going to avoid that answer — but I’ll use it with care, and very sparingly. And perhaps (though not entirely) as a cop-out on this first one. I’ve never been a dad before, after all.
That, and I built both a fence and a shed with minimal (but very much appreciated) help.
Did you keep your new years\’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Sort of. My first resolution flopped completely. My second — the one about the writing — was not a complete success, but resulted in some very interesting concepts that I’m going to make use of in my 2008 resolutions. Which was sort-of the point — so again, sort of. For 2008? I’m kicking it off right with a small handful of goals; Writing, I’m tracking a few short stories for the next year. Fitness, I’ve just three days ago signed up for a three month running clinic that starts next week. And everything else? Well, a lot of little things to bump and manage the ol’ lifestyle here and there, but I won’t bother sharing too much about that here.
Did anyone close to you give birth?
Uh, yeah. My wife. So, that was kind of a big deal (he writes sarcastically). Any regular reader of this blog knows enough about Claire to write a biography, already.
I’d list the rest, but you all know who you are and there are so many I’d likely miss some. Friends, cousins, casual acquaintances — this was the YEAR of babies, bar none. I knew so many new moms this year that if you had asked me in August I would have responded: “You mean there are still women who AREN’T pregnant?”
Did anyone close to you die?
Arms length, yes. Close, no.
What countries did you visit?
As a last huzzah to our childless existence, a fourth-month pregnant Karin and I spent an amazing ten days in the United Kingdom, eight nights in London and two in Oxford. We walked. We ate. We watched shows. We shopped — but only a little. The trip was something of a whim we had planned, actually, before Karin was even pregnant. And our timing was impeccable: a month sooner and we would have been doing the great queasy loo-tour of greater London. A month later and we would have spent ten days on a succession of double-decker buses watching the city from a comfortable seat. But as it was we wore out our shoes on the cobblestone streets while enjoying an absolutely amazing and unforgettable vacation.
What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
A breakfast buddy. My wife eats cereal. My kid is too young to enjoy a stack of pancakes with a side of scrambled eggs. My dog, well… you know. I’d drag my dad along (because he’d probably pay, and to be honest the fixation is deeply genetic) but that’s a little far to drive for waffles and coffee.
Seriously, one Saturday morning a month and I’d have my bacon-fix.
What date from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
September 22nd. I need to explain that? Well, simply because I didn’t sleep at all that night — and the next morning I was permitted the rare privilege of ringing up the relatives in the wee early hours, rousing them at 6AM to explain why. The best part of that was my mother-in-law’s reaction: “Oh. Okay. Well, I’ve got some errands to run today so call me and let me know how it turns out.” She was in Edmonton two hours later.
And, really, we weren’t even expecting Claire until the thirtieth.
What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple days and I was hard pressed to reconcile if this is an actual achievement or not. It seems so trivial, but four months along (with only one minor Christmas-related and forgivable infraction) I have not let a sip of sweetened beverage pass my lips. I set out the personal directive upon myself in late August to avoid any drink that was not (a) water (b) milk (c) tea or coffee (d) pure juice OR on occasions (e) wine, beer, or spirits. That means no soda, lemonade, ice tea, sweetened beverage of nearly any kind that comes in a bottle, can, box, or jug. I’ve avoided them all. (And, to be honest, dropped about ten pounds in the process.) Achievement? Maybe. Self-inflicted torture? Well, I missed them for a while but I got over that.
What was your biggest failure?
I was trucking along with my Tai Chi and I sort of dropped the ball. There were a lot of excuses, but really I just stopped going.
Did you suffer illness or injury?
My pride a few times, but otherwise no.
What was the best thing you bought?
I want to say my new stereo — or maybe the GPS — but over the past month I’ve finally had a chance to learn the nuances of the new flash I picked up for my camera way back in January with last year’s Christmas money. I was trying to explain to Karin why this was: it’s like this I said. The flash, when used properly, has a very subtle effect on your photographs. Sure, you can snap away and ‘just use it’ so to speak. But to use it right, requires some practice. How I practice is to experiment and get feedback — and what I’ve deduced is the best way to do this is with some very controlled and INDOOR still-life and portrait photography. So (using this logic) when has been the ideal time to experiment? In the winter when I’ve got a captive child as a photography subject. Thus, I’ve learned more about my flash in the last month than I did in all of the eleven months prior. Funny that. And still the best purchase of the year.
Whose behavior merited celebration?
My sister and my mother embarked upon this little journey called Weight Watchers. I’ve never been fond of the gimmicky approaches that some of these programs, but I suppose it’s all about goals and mindsets — changing the way one eats — and that kind of thing. And they both stuck to it and, as far as I know, met their goals. And they both are looking aces. Keep up the good work! Three cheers! Each!
Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Guys (and one guy in particular who will likely never read this) who use their wives as punching bags. I’ve spent a number of months watching the metaphorical avalanche tumble down the mountain and do a whole lot of damage. And, as usual, that’s about all I want to say on this particular topic.
Where did most of your money go?
The house, house, house. Not only did we do some more landscaping (including finishing the fence, deck, and building a shed) but with all the hullabaloo about the sub-prime mortgage collapse in the States, we decided to hedge some of our bets against our own (not-sub-prime) mortgage, and put every penny we could scrape together as a lump sum on that sucker. It wasn’t actually a big lump, but it was like carving a few years off the back end — and it actually felt pretty good. Sorta like swapping an elephant on one’s shoulders for a hippopotamus. Still heavy, but the trunk isn’t hitting you in the face anymore.
What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Karin lost a bet and had to buy me a new GPS. I would have listed it as my best purchase — but it’s more about the adventure. Not so much since winter hit, but tonnes over the summer, I got involved in a little treasure-hunting sport called Geocaching. Download the coordinates, lace up your shoes, find the cache. I have a rather unimpressive list of finds to date, but when I do manage to get out I love it.
What three books will always remind you of 2007?
1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for two reasons: first, because as long as I live I’ll never forget how bizarre and creepy it was to be walking down the beach in Penticton the morning after it was released and seeing every other person reading it. And second, because I invoked my (self-proclaimed) right to read it first — having “discovered” the books long before the masses and the media — and downloaded a pirated copy about a week before the official date. Two-thousand seven will forever be the year of reading grainy, pirated, digitally photographed pages of a over-hyped book, simply because I could. Karin still bought a copy, though.
2) I’ve only started to read it, but after visiting London in May both Karin and I were anxious to have a go at Wicked, the book from which the musical was adapted. Standing outside the Apollo Victoria Theater I would have never expected how much I would enjoy this show. Thus, when I eventually get around to reading that book it will definitely be a reminder of that trip — and this year.
3) Was it just me, or was everyone doing Sudoku this year? Everywhere I went, it seems, I was tripping over someone’s Sudoku book — and we seem to have a half dozen of our own kicking around the house. I don’t know if it will remind me of 2007 or not, but the game seems to have hit its stride lately.
Compared to this time last year, you are:
a) happier or sadder? Happier. Fatherhood. Enough said.
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner. But only because I’m not doing the whole flavoured sugar water thing anymore. I really do recommend it.
c) richer or poorer? Poorer. But a spouse on maternity leave tends to noticeably reduce one’s family income. And babies cost money, too. Not much. But more than zero babies.
What do you wish you\’d done more of?
Read. My stack of books is growing week by week and my time to read them is shrinking in a mathematically inverse way — at least it seems that way. Maybe less of the next answer and more of this one. Hmm… I wonder why they are side by side?
What do you wish you\’d done less of?
Surfed. And if I was talking about the kind with oceans, waves, and sleek fiberglass boards you could reach through the screen and slap me. But I’m not. Facebook, Digg, Slashdot, Fark, The Onion — and those are just the regulars. I think I’m going to make an effort to cut back on that a little more.
How did you spend Christmas?
Christmas was three days long in our world. Christmas Eve was spent shuttling a three month old and a dog to Red Deer, attending a church service, opening some gifts, and eating lots. Christmas-proper meant more gifts, more food, and a steadily grumpier group of critters. Boxing Day was spent with my side of the family and, yes, more gifts, more food, and tons and tons of photos of a couple cute little cousins enjoying this relatively new experience called the holidays.
How do you plan to (or, how did you) spend New Years?
I woke up early on the 31st and drove to Ikea for a one buck loner (in that no one would go with me) breakfast — but that was the day’s excitement. We hung around home for most of the day, and then spoiled ourselves by cooking a leg of lamb for dinner. Around 7:30 we were due to drop by Lola’s house for some New Year’s cheer and a games night. But rather (and in fact as I write this) we’re just settling Claire down to sleep after two and a half hours of crying. I guess we’ll ring in 2009 in style instead. I guess we’re (sadly) bailing on the party and going to play some games at home and watch a movie — and hope that our daughter cooperates.
Did you fall in love in 2007?
How could I not have fallen (and hard) for a smart, glowing little girl named Claire? (Is that another cop-out? Too bad.)
How many one-night stands?
I thought I’d be standing a lot more in the late nights as a new dad, but Claire actually sleeps through the night. Plenty of one-evening stands, though. I stand. And stand. And stand. All the while rocking a fussy baby to sleep. It works. Mostly.
What was your favorite TV program?
I’m still really loving the Battlestar Galactica. I just can’t help it. It’s so freaking awesome! Of course, I don’t have much time to watch much else. So, maybe I’m just out of touch. The fourth and final season apparently hits the air in 2008, so… yeah.
Other than that, it’s been something of a null television year. We turned off more than we turned on, despite hooking ourselves up with a home-brew PVR and a sexy new sound system. As always, we followed a couple shows: The Office, Lost, Kid Nation, The Amazing Race, and far too many home renovation shows. But for the most part we’ve been tuning down the tube in this house, and even officially blocked off Tuesdays as our regular no-TV day.
Do you hate anyone now that you didn\’t hate this time last year?
Short answer? No.
What was the best book you read?
The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis was the first book that I read aloud to Claire. It put her to sleep, but I suppose that was the idea.
What was your greatest literary discovery for 2007?
I was looking for literature falling into the category of ‘steampunk’ and came across little-known science fiction author, China MiÃƒÂ©ville. I don’t know how to articulate my fascination with his work other than to say he’s my generation and he writes how I want to write. His Wikipedia entry quotes him as saying: “I love this stuff. And when I write my novels, I\’m not writing them to make political points. I\’m writing them because I passionately love monsters and the weird and horror stories and strange situations and surrealism, and what I want to do is communicate that. But, because I come at this with a political perspective, the world that I\’m creating is embedded with many of the concerns that I have… I\’m trying to say I\’ve invented this world that I think is really cool and I have these really big stories to tell in it and one of the ways that I find to make that interesting is to think about it politically. If you want to do that too, that\’s fantastic. But if not, isn\’t this a cool monster?” But apparently not too many people admire that brand of fiction as I found one of his books in the bargain bin for, literally, a buck. Their loss.
What did you want and get?
Too much. Really. Too damn much. There is something about this phase of life — good job, stable income, supportive family — that makes me think I get far more than I deserve and often leaves me wanting for nothing. As much as that sounds like a great place to be, I’ve been weaning myself from the teat of consumerism (as much as a twenty-first century, North American guy can, at least) and I still sometimes — well, often actually — feel like enough is enough. To be honest, for me 2008 is going to try to be a little more — a lot more — about giving.
What was your favorite film of this year?
I’m choosing from a short list but I’m going to say Transformers. No, it’s not for the reasons you’re thinking right now. Sad as it was — lacking for time as I was — Transformers kinda represented the last real ‘guys night out’ for me this year, and splurging on a movie and popcorn and kicking back with some testosterone was pretty sweet actually.
What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 31. Karin cooked a nice dinner. Claire cried a whole lot. And my parents came up for a brief visit. Of course I was peppered with birthday wishes via email and Facebook, but I think I’m entering that phase of life when no one really cares if you are a year older — not even you.
What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Being able to walk to work. Being able to walk around work. Working somewhere that didn’t involve ninety-nine percent reliance on a vehicle just to get there, get home, and maybe go for lunch once-in-a-blue-moon. That is definitely a criteria for any future job change.
How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?
In January, Karin took me shopping and we dropped a cool grand on some fine threads for me. Sport jackets, ties, sweaters, and a pair of nice new leather shoes. I’ve been well groomed at professional functions ever since. At least that’s what everyone tells me.
Describe the best picture you took — or that was taken of you — in 2007:
This could be a long list. But since I MUST pick one, here goes the rationale…
First, it must be a photo of my new favorite subject-slash-model. Second, I took a whole thwack of pictures of Claire in December. It was goal I set out at the end of November with no idea how it would turn out, but amazingly enough it has turned out spectacularly well, and left behind an absolute treasure trove of images that I’m sure we’ll cherish forever. It should be a picture from there. Third, it should be an image that has some kind of significance behind it. And fourth, other people should think it’s a good photo, too.
Claire was vaccinated on a Thursday afternoon. That same evening we went to Karin’s office holiday party and brought a very grumpy little girl along for the ride. She screamed for nearly the whole duration of the party, and we sneaked out early because she was in such a horrible mood. Fortunes turned though, and that night after she got home she was the happiest little girl you’d ever could have met… so, we took the opportunity to pose her for some shots. And one of the classic, priceless images that emerged was a candid, happenstance placing of two girls, Karin and Claire, on the floor and head to head. Karin’s hair fell roughly over Claire’s forehead, and framing the shot just right gave the appearance of Claire with a mop-top of perfectly shaded locks. It’s been a rave ever since.
What kept you sane?
I’ve spent the last six to nine months fostering two matured fascinations;
One, I’ve been drawing inspiration from neo-victorian steampunk, a genre of fiction stereotyped by 19th century technology filling 21st century niches. “Steampunk is a subgenre of fantasy and speculative fiction which came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used–usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England–but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of “the path not taken” of such technology as dirigibles or analog computers; these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or a presumption of functionality.” Think gears, goggles, and dirigibles. I’ve let it influence me far too much, I’ll admit.
And two, I’ve discovered the worldwide community of “rational thinkers” also known as Skeptics. “A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation. The scientific method details the specific process by which this investigation of reality is conducted. Considering the rigor of the scientific method, science itself may simply be thought of as an organized form of skepticism. This does not mean that the scientific skeptic is necessarily a scientist who conducts live experiments (though this may be the case), but that the skeptic generally accepts claims that are in his/her view likely to be true based on testable hypotheses and critical thinking.” No, don’t mistake skeptics for cynics. It’s about doubting untestable claims — not poo-pooing society.
The world makes a little more sense this year because I’ve had those to lean on, odd as that might sound.
Who is one public figure you respected the most in 2007?
Albert II, The King of Belgium.
What political issue stirred you the most?
The parity of the Canadian Dollar to the American Dollar. Issue, you ask? Well, if you don’t think THAT is a political issue, you haven’t traced back many (or any) of the puppet strings pulling the markets. Parity may not have been intended, but it sure wasn’t an accident either.
Who did you miss?
With a new family addition to show off one is often — too often — reminded of the people who she should have met, but never will. She doesn’t miss them, but her folks do.
Who was the best new person you met?
Yes, another cop-out slash fatherhood answer. The best new person I met was my daughter, Claire. She’s pretty cool, after all.
Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007:
We get told all our lives that (somehow) having children is among the noblest of professions. It tends to be people who actually have kids that say that, and until you are a parent you (apparently) have no ‘right’ to refute that. I will admit that having kids takes a special kind of effort — but I’ll also be first in line to add that much of that effort is sheer biology. Raising kids is tougher (and noble in and of itself) true, but still not the noblest of professions. I think, what I’ve learned in the last few months — months of preparing through speaking with, reading about and observing others, those sudden life-altering changes, the countless dirty diapers, and many hours upon hours of patient quasi-parenting — is that while having kids is biology, and raising kids is merely thankless and all-consuming, maintaining enough of oneself (and by that I mean the non-parent part of oneself) through the process of having and raising kids is probably among the noblest of chores. Almost anyone can raise a kid, but holding onto what is good and strong in oneself — and thus being a useful role model — is something that can slip away so quickly and so quietly that I can easily see how one might not even know it’s missing until it’s far too late. After all, is it really enough to wholly and completely devote oneself to a child if ultimately that means one looks at oneself in the mirror a few years later to realize one has given it all away and built nothing more to continue the effort? Who one is before one has kids lasts, at best, a couple years.
It seems to me that unless we keep growing our own personalities — keep making ourselves interesting people through our hobbies and our talents, our passions and our pursuits outside of parenting — we may start off as the best parents ever, but that will sublime away no matter what we do. Being a role model, after all, is mostly about demonstrating a positive kind of momentum in our own lives — otherwise we’re just hypocrites.
What is one thing you’d like your kid(s) to know about the year 2007:
We — far too many of us, in fact — contributed to something of a let-down as a society this year. We continued to let our consumerism and commercialism get the better of us. We kept on ignoring the gradual erosion of our basic rights. We let our governments get away with pollution and torture. And we decided we would rather watch celebrities in rehab while our economies took a beating, than understand the real issues facing the world. I’m ending the year hoping that it was merely a blip and that history will just write 2007 off as a bad year. I’m ending the year hoping that we’ll all do better for your future — politically, economically, environmentally — but I’m not sure how we’ll get over this slump we’re in. It’s really not very rosy right now. Sorry about that.
One quote that sums up your year:
“Oh. Okay. Well, I’ve got some errands to run today so call me and let me know how it turns out.”