2011 – A year in review (part 1)
2011 has been a year of adventure and big changes for me, and overall I have really enjoyed it, but it has also been a really challenging year in many ways. I think that 2011 will be a year that Ben and I look back on for many years to come, and so selfishly, I wanted a record of it…and I have turned that into a blog post talking about what each month involved.
This was a big month for us. It started off in Wisconsin/Minnesota with my family following Christmas, and it was wonderful to ring in the New Year with them.
A few days later my younger brother Will, Ben, and I went to Seattle to visit my grandma, aunt, uncle, and cousins. It was Ben’s first visit to Seattle, and we had an incredible time.
On the flight back from Seattle, Ben mentioned that maybe since I had finished my PhD, we should consider taking some time out from working so that I could look for the right thing, he could make a switch, and we could have some time with my family. I was nervous but very excited about the idea.
When we returned to the UK, I immediately submitted the final version of my PhD thesis which had been approved while I was away. Boy did that feel good!
Once this was done, I was able to apply for my post-study work VISA. This was a huge amount of work and a huge expense, so Ben and I were so relieved when it was all finished. My appointment to get my VISA was in Liverpool, and during the night we spent there, we talked a lot more about what we wanted to do with our year, and decided to give up our house and Ben’s job for a year of adventure and in order to find careers we both enjoy.
During January, I started working as a teaching assistant, and helped to design the course and run tutorials for a psycholinguistics class at the university. It was my second time working as a teaching assistant for this course, and although it was was hard work, I really enjoyed it.
The rest of the month was a bit of a blur, as Ben put in his notice at work and had one last month, and we put in our one month notice at our house, and we started planning our adventure.
Throughout February, we worked to get Ben a tourist VISA for the US, which he needed in order to stay in the country for more than 90 days, and we also booked our flights to the US!
Toward the end of February, Ben finished work – yippee!!! And at the end of the month, we moved all of our belongings into Ben’s parents’ house and said goodbye to our first little house.
Let the adventure begin!
This was our first month living with Ben’s parents and I feel so lucky that they were willing to take us, and all of our stuff, into their home. We spent the first couple of weeks getting settled, and then we went to visit a friend (Maya) in Spain. I did my PhD with Maya and we shared an office, and Maya was one of the first people to help me feel at home in the UK. It was so wonderful to see her and to see where she was living and meet her friends, as she had moved to Spain after her PhD for a post-doc position. We had a fantastic visit with some warmer weather, gorgeous places, and some time to just relax and catch up. I want to go back again soon!
In April, we scrambled a little bit to get everything organised, and we managed to catch up with some friends before we left which was wonderful, and then we packed up our bags and flew to the US. We started off in Seattle and spent nearly three weeks there, and my parents and older brother Si came out to join us for part a few days around Easter. We had a wonderful time in Seattle – part of each day was spent looking into job possibilities and working on CVs and cover letters, and the rest of the time we were able to spend with my grandma and my aunt and uncle and cousins! We had so much fun just being there with them, and they spoiled us rotten with wonderful food and fun outings. Ben and I tried scuba diving (in a pool) for the first time, with my uncle as our instructor, and we all went to an MLS Soccer game.
I was incredibly excited that I would be able to be home for Mother’s Day, so we flew into Minneapolis on Mother’s Day itself, and got to have dinner with my parents, younger brother, older brother, and sister-in-law. It was a beautiful evening with a delicious dinner and great company, and it meant a lot to me to be home for Mother’s Day.
That evening, we headed up to my parents’ house with them, and the next day was my mom’s birthday, and we had another fun day and evening celebrating with her. She certainly deserves it!
This was another busy month, as a couple of days after Mom’s birthday, Ben and I packed up my parents’ car and drove down to Madison to spend a little over three weeks there. I was very lucky to be able to continue some work on research I had done during my undergraduate degree, with my favourite person to work with in the world. Tim has been a huge inspiration to me in my work and as a person, and it was wonderful to see him again. It was partly through talking to him that I realised it was okay if I didn’t want to do research full-time anymore. Talking with Tim helped me to realise that I had a lot of options and that no one would be disappointed in me for changing directions slightly. I really enjoyed being back in Madison and working with Tim, and it was really fun because my younger brother Will was living there for the start of the summer, but it made me realise even more that I didn’t want to work for the rest of my life in academic research. This was a turning point for me, because it made me realise I was still fascinated by the research, but just that I didn’t necessarily like the day-to-day work involved with pure research. I am a people person, and analysing data for weeks on end just isn’t what I want to do long-term.
While I was working on my research, Ben was able to shadow several people who work in state government in Madison, and he spent most of his days at the capitol meeting with people and sitting in on meetings and legislative sessions. I think this was very interesting for him, as he studied international politics and economics, and I think it was fun for him to find out about issues in a different part of the world.
The first weekend we were in Madison we actually headed into Chicago to visit my grandpa and so that I could go to my friend Katherine’s bachelorette party. It was so much fun to see some of my old roommates again, and very fun to celebrate Kat’s upcoming wedding!
At the end of the month, I celebrated my 26th birthday, and it was a lot more low key than my last birthday celebrated in Madison (that was my 21st), but Ben and I had a wonderful day, and my parents, my sister and niece, and my uncle and his partner came to Madison for the long holiday weekend following my birthday for a visit. It was so great to see everyone and I had a blast at the Madison Farmer’s Market – it is one of my very favourite places. We also got to see my friends Val and Ryan that weekend, as they were there running the Madison half-marathon – very impressive, and very fun to see them. 🙂
At the very start of June, we headed back up to northern Wisconsin to my parents’ house, and the career/job hunt began in earnest. Ben and I both started reading ‘What Color is my Parachute?’, and it was through some of the activities in the book that I realised that it would be worth it to change directions to do what I really wanted to do as a career – be a clinical psychologist. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for what they want to do, whether it is deciding on a major at university or making a conscious career change. I think the world would be a happier place if everyone read that book. I learned a lot about myself and what I want.
In early June, my younger brother left for a month to help with a cool teaching project in Mexico, and I was excited and scared for him! And we really missed him.
We also managed to spend some time out on the lakes and did some fishing.
In mid-June, I was honoured to be bridesmaid in Kat’s wedding, and it was fun to see lots of friends from my years in Madison. Kat was a gorgeous bride, the wedding was really touching, and I couldn’t be happier for Kat and Jason. It was very special for me to be a part of it. My parents were also invited to the wedding and they nicely acted as our designated drivers and helped to make it a fun weekend for us.
From there, we headed into Chicago and celebrated Father’s Day there with my dad and grandpa. We had a nice visit in Chicago and although seeing my grandpa was of course the main highlight, visiting the zoo in Chicago is always my second favourite part of the visit because my grandpa was the director there for many years and we still get some special privileges when we visit (including a dance from one of the chimps who still remembers Grandpa).
From there, my mom, dad, Ben, and I drove to Milwaukee and flew from Milwaukee to Washington, DC, where we rented a car and spent a week exploring DC and parts of Maryland and Virginia.
For me, the highlight of the trip out east was seeing our family in Charlottesville, Virginia, who I lived with for a total of about a year throughout my late high school years. It was an incredible experience living with my family out there and working at the hospital and it was wonderful to see everyone again and to be back in a place I love so much.
From Charlottesville, we drove to Williamsburg and Jamestown and Yorktown to see the historical sites there, and then we carried on to the eastern shores of Virginia and Maryland. I got to go to Chincoteague Island, which I have wanted to do since I was a little girl (I was horse crazy and loved reading about the wild horses in the book ‘Misty of Chincoteague’). When we were there, I was able to see some wild horses in the distance, which was a real thrill for me, and then we spent a few hours body surfing and picnicking on an amazing beach on Chincoteague Island.
We carried on with our journey and headed into Washington, DC, where we spent a couple of days exploring all of the sights. We had a great time in DC, and we were really lucky that the weather cooperated throughout the whole trip – it didn’t rain, and it was hot but not sweltering. When we were in DC, we also got to catch up with my cousin and her fiancé, and it was great to see them.
After a wonderful week, we flew back to Milwaukee and drove back up to northern Wisconsin. I am so grateful to my parents for funding our trip out east and taking the time to come with us, as it was wonderful to visit some more of the US, and show some more of it to Ben, and most of all, it was great to have a fun trip with my parents.
Part 2 of 2011 to follow…