January is one of my favorite months, falling second in the ranks between October and December. As much as I love the bustle, festivity, and introspection of Advent and Christmas, I prefer the new energy and clean slate that January brings. By the time New Year’s Day hits, I’m simmering over with new ideas, I’ve got a backlog of books to read, and I am JUST SO GLAD to have the time and space to start things. But I also crave the quiet of January, the time for reflection on the previous year that there never seems to be enough time for in December. 

By now, you’ve probably read Bono’s Little Book of a Big Year, which means that you know that I’m totally about to rip off his idea. I like his format, and I think it might even be broad enough to contain the absurd highs and lows of my 2014. With Bono, I warn you: this is too long. If you prefer, read my New Year’s Facebook status (“2014 was boring. I’m ready for a little excitement.”), recognize the sarcasm, accept that last year in the Ziegenbein homestead was totally off the deep end, and move on. Or stick around and bear with me through my Long Post of a Really Long Year.

If there was one word that I overused last year, it was adventure. It became a default word to describe whatever situation I found myself in: the good, the bad, the crazy, and the bizarre. While we did have many adventures in the typical sense of the word–outings to the coast, craggy hikes, cross-country flights, a major move–we also had a decent share of “adventures” that doubled as “major inconveniences,” “life trials,” or “challenging mundanity” (Sam’s absurd birth situation; a three-month-long nursing war; trekking to the grocery store with a newborn; car breakdowns at Ikea). Maybe I did overuse the word, or maybe just I came to realize that those are the adventures that count the most, in which we learn and see God’s hand the most, and that it is critical to see them as such.

This year, we were subject to the hazing initiation of new-parenthood. We were confronted with all things baby, like it or not. The registering. The books (that I barely skimmed). The hours in the baby superstores (my mantra while trapped in there: “just kill me now”). The advance decisions about hospitals and birthing methods and what the first weeks at home would look like (HA!). The baby himself, finally visible to us, the four pound scrap in our arms. I won’t lie; I hate the color baby blue, and I have never been one to go googly-eyed over the baby that just entered the room. But the reality of babies is so much deeper and cooler and harder and more punk rock than all the baby-fever-stuff that most people refer to when they say, “I love babies!” or “I’m not a baby person.” Which, by the way, I’m not, either, if that means insensible baby talk and lots of smoochy kisses planted on someone else’s kid. But I think babies are the ultimate rock stars. They’re so resilient, so human and also kind of alien, so epically smart that their brains learn 100x faster than ours, so funny looking, so squeaky, so breakable, so determined to do what they want, and everything they do seems completely novel but it’s actually been done billions of times before. 

And then we booked a one-way flight to the West coast. It’s been a stretching experience to voluntarily leave home and launch out on our own, etc., etc., but mainly it’s just been fun. Also, C IS FOR COFFEE! (Newborn in the house? Coffee all ’round!)

When I was pregnant, a number of wise people advised me: “sleep when the baby sleeps.” It is sound advice. But there are certain times when sleep is not the thing you need most. I needed opportunities to create. To use some baby naps to paint furniture and play my instrument and finish designing Sam’s nursery. I needed to get out and play music with people ASAP after Sam was born. These things gave me a measure of sanity and helped me keep my head above water. Jordan was an absolute hero and understood this, and he helped me to make it happen.

1) Dependence on God. In labor 600 miles from home without my husband there; alone in the dark at 4:15 am with my heinous breast pump; on the Internet researching next-day flights to Philly two weeks after we moved to California; in the quiet of our new house knowing that every one of our friends was at least 2000 miles away. But somehow I found it easier to trust him in those extreme circumstances than in the little daily ones: selfish decisions, in traffic, while resenting silly things that impose on my time. May I depend on him in those things more in 2015. 2) Dependence on the village. I had to ask for more help in 2014 than in any year before. Friends and family members (along with a few people I hardly knew) brought meals for months, bought me milk and eggs, did my laundry, dropped off goodies, made GNC runs for supplements, counseled me late at night over the phone, cried with me, watched Sam while I prepared to move, cleaned my house, helped us unpack. It was remarkably important and difficult to have to lean on others so heavily. 

Oh, yeah. D is also for DIAPERS. An estimated 2,500 diapers. 

No need to re-hash this; I already blogged about it. But the decision to let go of nursing/pumping and give Sam only formula was one of the hardest and best decisions I made in 2014. 

This one makes me belly laugh just thinking about it. On March 20, six weeks ahead of the game, Sam was born in Florida. No one can guarantee the birth experience they have in mind, but…FLORIDA? No way. Anyway, in the divine arrangement, Florida it was, and sometime soon I’ll write out the whole long story for your reading enjoyment (or your skimming pleasure). Thankfully, F is also for “FLY HOME IN A LEAR JET SIX DAYS LATER.” Didn’t plan the Lear jet, either, but I wasn’t about to argue with that.

See “I”, “S”.

I hate to sound trite, but it’s true: home is wherever we are. And yet there’s still so much value in setting up house, putting down roots in a particular place, digging into a nest, beautifying, creating comfortable spots to burrow (I blogged about this a little bit, too)…while at the same time holding it all in an open hand, knowing that the true home is waiting for us and that all our efforts to create one here only provide us with little slivers of the great feeling of homecoming that is to come. I spent a lot of time burrowing and beautifying last year, and I saw improvement in my skills as I worked, but I also learned to hold it all loosely, because sometimes you’re called to pack it all up and start over. For me that process was a good reminder not to fix my heart on my physical house but on eternal treasures.

One of the most difficult cultural questions facing my circles of people is how to channel the technology at our fingertips. My iPhone is one of my primary creative tools, and it was also a sanity-giver last year: the cheeky little thing read books aloud to me while I was literally tethered to a rocking chair for days on end last spring. I read the entire Bible on my iPhone (see letter “R”) because I rarely had a free hand to hold a book. My phone dictated half of this blog post for me while I was stuck in a traffic jam. It helped me find MY OWN HOUSE approximately 68 times after I moved to Palo Alto and the movers forgot to pack my sense of direction. There, on your very own little brick, lives all the information of the Information Age (provided you remembered to charge it!), which is an amazing gift. You can look things up constantly, solicit the input of others, drive yourself mad with options and sources. Or you can put the dang thing in the other room sometimes and try your hand at intuition. Yes, it’s good to be informed, it’s good to be connected, but there’s a balance to be found. There are times that I’m too quick to look up what other people say about things, rather than following my gut instincts or prayerfully thinking through things for myself. As a new parent, this was an important realization. 

One of the greatest joys of 2014 was giving birth within a week of my best friend and walking through the ups and downs of pregnancy, birth, and the addition of our new tiny human appendages. Diaper blowouts in the middle of Anthropologie have never been more fun to endure. I am so thankful for my little “niece” Carrolline Jubilee, and one of the worst parts of moving to California was not being able to take her (and her parents) with me.

Let’s face it; he’s awesome, and he’s re-defining what it means to be a violinist in the pop world. Of the new music I heard in 2014, “Lighght” took the cake in terms of overall musicianship, violinnovation, and creative genius. It’s the kind of record that makes you feel like you’re hot stuff playing a starring role in a brilliant, dramatic movie, when you’re actually just sweeping your kitchen floor in yoga pants. Or with yoga pants, depending on how distracted you are by the music.

I freaking gave birth this year. All the moms out there are thinking, “Yeah, been there.” But really, it’s something I always wondered if I’d survive. I did survive. It was bizarro and miraculous and mercifully very short. And the tiny little four-pound product of it was a perfect reward (also bizarro and miraculous and very short).

Aimee Scarpetti. Jan Ziegenbein. If you’re reading this (what am I saying? You’re probably the only people reading this), you should know how much I love and appreciate you. I wouldn’t have lasted the year without you. 

Until March, I didn’t know that the “N” stood for “neonatal.” I didn’t know what a CPAP was, or a PICC line, or gavage feeding. I didn’t know that Northside Hospital had a seventh floor. I had no framework for what it meant to be a NICU parent. I only had to be one for 20 days (or maybe I always will be one), but it was enough for me to begin to understand–at least to have a shared vocabulary with–the trials of those who have endured similar or worse situations. I’m thankful for that. I’m also glad for the way the experience knit my family together; how it seems to have strengthened Sam, made him more independent, put him on a sleep schedule (glory!); how it bonded Jordan and Sam; for the rest that it afforded us in the weeks after Sam’s birth; for the opportunity to endure a trial that rallied our community and gave us an incredible platform from which to watch God’s tangible, dramatic work in our lives. 

In 2014, which very much felt like twelve months of watching my life unfold before me like a film–part tragedy, part comedy–I cleaned up a lot of broken glass, slipped and fell a couple of times, dropped at least one meal upside down on the floor, christened every room of my house with infant milk. Life with a newborn is a series of epic and messy outtakes. But I can’t even remember most of them because life with a newborn also gives you a blessed amount of amnesia. The outtakes fade from memory; the story arc remains.

I was an only granddaughter; only once in my life did I beat him in checkers; we shared 28 birthdays, 28 January 19ths; he lived to be ninety two. I am thankful that he was able to know Sam before he passed on Thanksgiving Day. 


Surprised to see the word “rest” included here? Yeah, so am I. The year was so don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it action-packed, it’s hard to believe that the word could factor in at all. But I did find a good deal of rest this year, mainly in unexpected places. Here are three examples of bizarre situations that provided rest when I least expected it: 1) One of the perks of our particular NICU experience was that we were actually able to go home and rest up for a couple weeks before bringing Sam home. Pretty weird scenario, I’ll say, but since we couldn’t do anything about the fact that he was stuck there, we made the best of it and got a ton of sleep. With the exception of the alarms set every 2-3 hours to remind me to… 2) Pump. I hated that piece of equipment with a passion, but it gave me forced rest and quiet (well, except for the pump wheezing away next to me). I read. I prayed. I drank tea, and I started this blog. 3) Not having any friends in California for a while. Sounds lonely, right? Yeah, but, the open calendar! The opportunities for sitting around and reading a book! I’m thrilled for the community we’ve found now, but there was something quiet and freeing about moving across the country, sharing a bottle of wine with your husband in an empty house, and starting from the beginning.

Just before last New Year’s, a friend suggested that a group of friends team up to read the Bible alongside each other for a year, with mutual encouragement and discussion along the way. Our Chronological Daily Bible readings provided a thread of consistency and grounding through a roller coaster of a year. It was incredible to take in the whole Big Story in one go, especially as it put my Little Story (which seemed so monumental to me at the time) in perspective. 

Move over, Tiger; it was The Year of the Google Doc. Our move to California was a potential logistical nightmare, and as silly as it sounds, I am truly thankful for shared documents and spreadsheets.

I spent a good deal of time in 2014 getting rid of excess stuff in our home, mainly through social media giveaways to friends (which was satisfying and fun) and a massive, three-month-long Craigslist moving sale (which funded Sam’s nursery project and a few special, long-term home purchases of things we love and will use for years). Then, I set out to put the things I reach for most in the most logical and accessible places. This is a rolling project–it’ll keep on rolling for years, no doubt–but I have found that it has made my daily life with a baby simpler and enabled me to maintain a certain level of order.

There were perils and perks to the travels we took, but the perks overruled. I ate SO MANY salted peanuts in 2014.

If I had to pick only a few words to describe the year, rather than 26+, this would be one of them. It doesn’t require much explanation.

My violin got upstaged in March, but now it’s back in the game with a new teacher and an owner who is resolving to study and practice more in 2015.

2014 saw the passing of a great hero of the faith and the church music community. Wade was one of the greatest musical influences in my life, teaching me so much about robust, traditional, yet diverse worship, about following God’s call to the unexpected places (“Let’s go to Ireland.” “Hey Elise, Wade Williams. Want to go to Poland with a bunch of people from Minnesota?”), and about music itself. This was a year for honoring Wade’s musicianship and leadership, sense of adventure, vision for true worship and mentoring true, equipped worshipers, ability to rally musicians and music from the corners of the earth and bring out their particular gifts, passion for putting a new spin on old things while preserving rich tradition, and legacy given to those he mentored.

A xebec is a small, fast pirate ship. It’s also one of the many new words (mainly archaic sea-faring words that are crazy cool but quite useless) that I learned in 2014 as Jordan read through the 20-odd books of the Master and Commander series. I share it because someday it will win you a game of Scrabble.

…the ingenious, life-giving invention of the cotton clothing industry that made it acceptable for moms to wear PJs in public.

Because it all comes back to U2. Just kidding. I didn’t know what else Z should stand for other than “Ziegenbein,” which is completely predictable. However, I just learned that 2015 is the Year of the Goat (news flash: ziegenbein means “goat leg”). So that might actually be a more appropriate note to end on. 

Last January, I set two goals for myself: 1) Have a baby. 2) Move to California. This year, I’m leaving things a little more open-ended, excited to follow the trails of possibility that I can already see opening up. There’s much ahead. 

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