December feels like a natural point to stop and reflect. I decided to be more intentional about doing that this year. 2024 is going to be a transition year for me and, like many of life's transitions, I expect to feel overwhelmed, scared, excited...all at the same time. I think writing about this transition would be helpful. Rather than start at a beginning (January), I'm going to start at an end (December) with a year-in-review post. So, here is my 2023 reflection. I hope sharing what has happened will be a good way to launch into the unknown of 2024.
January 2023: my annual month of rest was needed this year, as January saw the end of my first trimester of pregnancy with all its expected discomforts. By the end of the month I was reenergized, however, with the start of spring semester classes. I taught just two of the four classes I would normally instruct (I negotiated course releases when I signed my contract). In January, I discovered my college gave faculty maternity leave for a whole semester following labor - this gave me a surge of energy as well. My third pregnancy would be followed by my first paid maternity leave.
On the personal front, I found out my third child was to be my third son this month, and accepted the fact that my toilet seat would forever be left up.
February 2023: This is a particularly cold month where I live in Northern New York ("The North Country"). Its not unusual to see -20 or below on the thermostat throughout the month. To keep myself moving forward on projects, I borrowed a room in my Aunt's cabin each weekend. Frigid winter in the woods can inspire more than frigid winter in town. I was able to harness a bit of second trimester energy as well. In addition to teaching my classes, I sold a freelance script to Educational Testing Services, worked on the draft of a microlearning course for my work in Greenland, and finalized a new consulting contract with Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy (RWPC). This was also the month I decided to center my content for the park around what we now call the “Heritage Engagement Project” or HEP. This title communicated my desire to focus public engagement on heritage as a way to connect a community with the 110-million dollar redesign of a waterfront park.
Some personal highlights for the month of February included lots of yoga, a trip to the MOST in Syracuse, hosting a dinner for my brother’s family en route to Lake Placid, and a few kindergartner playdates (with their super cool moms). We also went overboard with little kid Valentine’s Day stuff. I always need some holiday cheer in the dead of winter.
March 2023: As spring inched closer, things got busy. The midpoint of the semester is always full of student meetings and grading. But amidst these normal responsibilities, this month was exciting on the professional front. On March 15th, I formally established Modern Anthro Consulting, LLC, my new consulting company. Knowing my contract with RWPC was long-term and I hoped to pick up other clients from this work, I decided to create an LLC. Since a family member helped my husband and I set one up for his landscaping business in 2022, I was fresh on the process. I signed 2023 contracts with Educational Testing Services and RWPC under my LLC, the first two clients for my fledgling company. I quickly designed a logo and invoice template, registered for an EIN, and set up a business bank account. I was off. The end of March saw some action too. I had a great time speaking at our Anthropology Club’s Women in Anthropology panel, traveled to Cincinnati for the Society for Applied Anthropology conference, and had a great career mapping conversation with two cousins (an activity that would prove necessary in the coming months).
Some personal highlights included a fetal thumbs up in my son’s ultrasound (literally), taking a spring equinox yoga class, a dinner date at a great North Country restaurant, and a packed-house elementary school Bingo night (pure chaos).
April 2023: Spring - my favorite time of the year. April is still pretty cold up here, but the month brings the promise of brighter days. That promise motivates. Unfortunately, that motivation was deflated by the stomach bug. Minus that lost week, April saw some professional progress. I gave an invited talk at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas’ Anthropology Pro-Series on digital heritage, conducted an experimental learning day at our department’s experimental archaeology workshop (HEARTH), and did some follow-up networking with anthropologists I met at the March conference. At RWPC, we solidified my heritage project and started discussing the possibility of a digital exhibit for the park.
On a personal note, April saw the first spring walks, the first trip to the local ice cream shop, lots of yoga, great ultrasounds of a growing baby boy, and an unseasonably warm kid’s party that resulted in surprise sunburns (which always feel like a happy thing when they are the first of the season).
May 2023: Spring had really arrived by now. As the academic semester came to an end, much of my work hours were dedicated to grading and wrapping up the year. I penned this piece for Ralph Wilson on connecting the park redesign with global goals centered on building better human cities. This really got me thinking about heritage in global-level transformations. Other than that, my month went to personal intentions.
And that time spent on my personal life resulted in so many great things. An awesome (and relaxing) Mother’s Day, my kindergartener’s STEAM fair poster on rocks, egg-cracking lessons for my 3-year-old aspiring chef, my husband’s annual birthday hike and local brewery visit, the first days hot enough for the sprinkler, an impromptu deck dinner with neighbors, a drive to Montreal with my mom, some Adirondack fun with family, and the opening of ‘screen porch season’. There was also plenty of tee-ball, yoga, river walks, and some nesting as I hit 7 months pregnant and the reality of my growing family inched closer.
June 2023: The month started out high with the well-deserved celebration of a student and mentee who won a prestigious Chancellor’s award. After that, I allowed myself a low-productivity month in exchange for lots of fun on the personal front. A few small achievements happened. Knowing I was up for reappointment in the fall, I started the paperwork/presentation for that. I also organized a virtual writing retreat with writing friends spread across the country, wrote about the challenge of changing a place’s name for RWPC. I also had a networking call with a UB colleague that later developed into a collaborative project and met with our local Small Business Development Center to learn more about running a business.
Personally, I started sunrise walks to the river (so good for a sore, pregnant body), celebrated my 37th birthday with brunch in Lake Placid, attended my town’s Dairy Festival (and Dairy Princess Parade), and hit up as many kindergarten year-end events as I could. I also ate my weight in ice cream and local strawberries. Not sorry.
July 2023: Oh what a month. I relocated my entire family five hours away to my parents house to give birth at the hospital of my choice in Western New York. This choice impacted everything, as both the chaos of upheaval and the sincere discomfort of being 9 months pregnant in the summer took over. On the professional front, I wrote this piece about history’s tendency to forget those who built places we use today for RWPC… and that’s about it.
Personally, my month was punctuated by the birth of an AMAZING baby boy. I had a great labor and delivery at the exceptional hospital that delivered my first two sons. The chaos of relocating for it was worth it. Before the littlest brother arrived, I had some good time with friends and family in the area. Once here, my son was an easy baby from the start. Its hard to beat that in terms of personal highs for the month.
August 2023: August is usually my least favorite month. It is a month of chaos, loss of routine, and heat…three things that rarely make me happy. Add on top of that a newborn and two other little ones on summer vacation, and you have the recipe for a tough month. Still, I finalized this piece on the health benefits of building community at a local park for RWPC and finalized the piece about kids for September (both were drafted before baby arrived, I won’t overstate my postpartum achievements here). Other than that, I was on maternity leave all month and did not attempt much in terms of work. Recovery was the main priority.
Personally, my older boys turned 4 and 6 and were given a day of fun from sunrise to sunset (it was exhausting - celebrating all of my kid's birthdays in 2.5 weeks is going to be a lot). This was followed by a successful lemonade stand endeavor which procured funds for a very successful (and much anticipated) trip to the St. Lawrence County Rock & Gem Show for the older boys. My husband and the older two then headed south for an extended family beach vacation while I stayed home with the newborn. Visits from North Country moms and post-baby nesting made the month enjoyable. Knowing I did not have to start teaching again at the end of the month kept stress levels low.
September 2023: Okay, I love the month of September. It will always scream fresh starts, routine, and coolness to me (all welcome things). It has, however, become a bit hectic since I started parenting elementary school kids. Regardless of back-to-school chaos, I had a sleeping baby and a healed (healing?) body and mind so I was able to focus on some projects (some necessary, some by choice). I finished my reappointment portfolio and presented a summary of my contributions to my department mid-month. Like this reflection, sharing what I had done and what I hoped to do in the future felt valuable. I was proud of what I had achieved in the prior year and what I had contributed to my students and the department. I also shared, for the first time, that I had established an LLC and was actively pursuing paid, non-academic work on the side. This kind of thing can be frowned upon in more traditional academic departments. My colleagues, however, were nothing but supportive (and curious). Win. Once I crossed that major hurdle, I planned a writing retreat for myself, checking into a local country inn for the night (see pictures below). It was a chance to get some peace (hard to come by at home) and start some new projects I wanted the space to explore. Lastly, I joined my school’s Artificial Intelligence Working Group this month. Not exactly sure why, but I was curious. I also believe there should be an anthropologist in every influential group like this, whose charge is to lead an institution through change.
On the home front, my oldest two sweated through their first seasons of soccer (did you know 4-year-old soccer is hilarious?). I then sent them off to Pre-K and 1st grade. My eldest walking his middle brother into the “big kid school” for the first time was awesome.
October 2023: Fall is in full swing during the month of October, where living in the shadow of the Adirondack mountains has its colorful perks. This month I worked on the RWPC digital exhibit for the park and put out this piece about the gift of freshwater for the Heritage Engagement Project. I spent one rainy Saturday helping my academic department during an admissions event with the help of some of my upper level anthropology students. The enjoyable part (for me) was hearing about their summer internships, field schools, and future plans. This month I decided to submit a presentation for the 2024 Society for Applied Anthropology conference. I decided to call my paper Heritage Beyond UNESCO, and penned the abstract entry this month. I am looking forward to exploring my ideas on using Heritage to an audience of applied social scientists in March (my paper was accepted). There were a lot of fall illnesses to work around and I was determined to keep my work truly part-time, so I felt happy with these achievements.
On the personal side, fall fun was on the agenda. Pumpkin patches, train rides, bon fires, and still-warm visits to the playground filled our days. Our final visits to the farmer’s market and cooler morning river walks made it clear that while it was still warm, winter was coming. This month also saw an amazing dinner party with North Country moms for me and visits from both grandmas and some beloved aunts. My oldest started swim classes again and surprised us with his excitement (swim meets might be in my future). The month ended with a bitter cold Halloween night where my oldest kids lived their best lives, running wild around the pitch dark neighborhood, cushioned by the safety of living in a small town surrounded by school friends, their families, and neighbors who recognize and look out for them. Even the baby didn’t seem to mind the cold, tucked into a stroller in his warm bumblebee costume.
November 2023: As the year-end grew closer and the days colder, I dove into some old and new projects (by choice, I was still technically on maternity leave). First, a collaborative writing session with my partner from Greenland made significant progress on a heritage microlearning course we are piloting (hopefully to a small cruise line in Greenland who has communicated interest). I also started a new project with a student. I am mentoring her through designing some digital content for a museum in East Africa. At RWPC, I wrote this piece about science in heritage-building at the park and started thinking about my December and January content, working ahead a bit. Lastly, I signed up for an EdX course from The Wharton School on business strategy. I read Blue Ocean Strategy earlier this year and have become interested in the subject. Anthropologists need business skills (this has been my rallying cry for years now). So I am living my values and letting my curiosity lead at the moment.
This month also saw an event that will lead to a major transition in my life. I was notified that my teaching contract at SUNY Potsdam would not be renewed. While not a performance judgment (record-high faculty cuts across campus in response to a major budget deficit) and not a surprise, it was still a bit emotional. I have decided not to pursue other professor positions for a number of reasons. The main reason is I don’t want to disrupt my family’s lives for another teaching post somewhere far away. We moved four times in three years (the same three years that saw the births of my first two children), all for short-term academic positions. I am glad I did it for a number of reasons, but the future will not look like that. For that, and other reasons those in my field can probably guess, I’ve decided to move on. And so it’s time for a major professional transition. Where I am headed I am not quite sure yet. But I am looking forward to the possibilities of the future and that’s the truth.
It was a busy month professionally but the personal side always sees action as well. We traveled this month for Thanksgiving, not easy to do with three little kids but a part of our holiday traditions. The big kids started hockey/skating lessons again and it was a real joy to see them shed their nerves and finally take to the ice (last year was a bit of a disaster). I was the Mystery Reader in my first grader’s classroom and celebrated a milestone anniversary with my husband this month as well. We also started our holiday festivities in mid-November. We took the little kids’ bedroom trees from storage (yes, we are that family) and picked out the perfect pine at the local tree farm. The first snow happened on the first of the month and it was a beautiful winter wonderland all month.
December 2023: And so here we are at the end of 2023. I continue work on all the projects previously mentioned, while using this month for major reflection activities as well. New planners have arrived but I won't crack them till I sufficiently reflect on the current year. I wrote this year-end review of the Heritage Engagement Project for Ralph Wilson Park which inspired the personal year-in-review you are reading now. I am in the process of planning an overnight reflection/looking ahead retreat tentatively scheduled for after New Years as well. This month, I was also excited to see this new landing page for all of my HEP writing for RWPC. I can now share all of the heritage-building pieces I wrote this year (and in the future) in one, easy-to-browse location.
As for the future, I know I should be actively job hunting right now. But I am planning to teach out my contract next semester and I can’t help but stay in my maternity-leave-mindset. I do realize that for most a maternity leave means not working at all. For many reasons, that was not the route I took this fall (as you've read). So, for the end of the year, staying in my maternity-leave mindset means working part-time and only on projects that excite me. Worrying about the future and applying for jobs is on hold till the new year.
The rest of my waking hours are being filled with living in the season. I decided not to simplify this year, I want to do it all. All the gingerbread parties at the elementary school. All the cookie baking I skipped last year when nausea was too strong to stomach it. Trips to local gift shops. Crepes with my 4-year-old following his pre-school concert. And finally making it to Potsdam’s candlelight Christmas concert, with my date a curious 6- year-old (who needed a steady supply of snacks but did a fantastic job sitting still). It’s time for feeling festive and ignoring concerns of the future. For now, it’s the season for sugar highs, electric-bill-crushing twinkly lights, and terrible-I-mean-beautiful holiday crafts with the kids. Next year I'll skip the glitter.
And that’s a wrap. If you’ve read all this - thank you for your interest! I am touched. Writing it down was good for my soul. We too often forget to make time for reflections like this, but I believe in their power. So with that, I wish you a most happy and healthy end of 2023. I look forward to the New Year and all its potential.
Love to all,
Note: I do not have an exceptional memory. This YIR was possible due to good note taking. I use a monthly goal planner in addition to a regular planner. Inside that goal planner are calendars where I keep track of “small wins and happy things.” I started doing this two years ago and have discovered significant benefits to remembering the small but good stuff at the end of each month/quarter/year. These small wins and happy things slip my notice otherwise; I am all too often looking at the future. If you can’t remember many of the smaller parts of your year, consider doing this! Life is lived in these smaller moments…don’t forget about them.