2016 - Holiday Letter - A Year of Transitions and Change

This is my first-ever online Holiday Letter to Friends and Family, new and old.  Since the theme of my year is Transitions and Change, it seemed a good time to try something new with holiday greetings.

I’m curious if anyone will actually read what I’m writing, so if you get to the end, follow the "About" link and send me a comment, even if all you say is that you read it.  Other comments will of course also be welcome, if sent with the spirit of the holiday season.

Cards.  We did send out a few cards this year.  I really like sending out and receiving holiday cards, but that’s primarily because I like to keep up with what old friends and their families are doing.  Sometimes I’ve used holiday cards as a way to say thank you to people who have helped me in some way over the years.  In recent years, it seems that most cards have little information and no pictures.  The cards let me know that I’ve been thought of and that the sender is still alive, but not much more.  Also, our customary holiday letter has become difficult to write, since people get teased about writing “brag” letters if you go into detail about expensive trips or purchases and the accomplishments of the senders and their children.  In addition, those cute kids who used to be on every card are now grown up.  While we still think they are cute, they have lives of their own at distant locations and probably think it is a little weird if their parents still want them on the holiday card.  It might be nice to send cards to say “thank you” to those special in my life, but it’s probably better to do that when it isn’t mixed up with holiday traditions, since one card seems to generate a return greeting that then morphs into a permanent addition to the card list.  If you once received a card from me, but didn’t this year or don’t next year, please don’t take it personally.  Each year our card list gets a little smaller, dropping those we see regularly anyway, those friends who were once an important part of our lives, who have now moved on to other interests.  The priority seems to be distant friends and relatives who continue to play a role in our lives.

Family Wedding.  Our biggest family event of the year was our daughter’s wedding in San Francisco.  Everything went beautifully.  Although I had no responsibilities before or at the wedding other than getting myself dressed and present, walking down the aisle with my husband and daughter, and making a toast, I was quite a nervous wreck worrying about everything before and during the event.  This probably seems very strange given my many years of experience with weddings, but it’s definitely different to be mother of the bride rather than just a hired participant.  I think what I most worried about was that I would do or say something that would embarrass myself or my family.  Why that was such a big worry, I don’t know.  All went well and we have wonderful memories of the various events before and after the ceremony as well.  We added on a tour of San Francisco sponsored by Road Scholar to our wedding trip.  We traveled all around the various neighborhoods of the city using a variety of transportation modes and got to see aspects of the city we knew little about.  It was a fun addition to the gathering of family and friends at the wedding.

Wedding Business.  As most of my friends know, I closed my wedding office last year.  I made a rather abrupt decision to do so.  It was odd, in a way, because I loved the wedding ceremonies and I enjoyed having an office to go to, which made me feel like I still had a job to do, a role in the world and a focus for my involvement in the community.  I once thought I had the perfect part-time job, because I could do it forever or at least until my memory gave out and I couldn’t remember to go to the weddings.  My office also gave me a base of operation for the many volunteer positions I held and even served as the regular mailing address for several of them.  I’m happy to report that I have no regrets about closing the office.  That doesn’t mean it’s been an easy transition.  I gave away furniture, artwork and supplies, to reduce the amount of stuff I was bringing home.  To make room for the items I brought home, other furniture and other things at home needed to go.  I still have a few remaining boxes I need to sort through to finish the transition process, but that seems more manageable all the time.  I’ve learned that possessions, no matter how nice they are, can be a burden as much as a blessing, so having less stuff can result in a liberating feeling.  One of my last transitions had to do with my wedding website.  My son created my first website when he was in high school.  When he went off to college I figured I’d better learn how to take care of it myself.  That pushed me to sign up for computer classes at the local technical college.  I had so much fun in my Webmaster program that I continued to study there part-time for two years, until I finally decided I needed to move on with my life.  I’ve had that same website and domain name for 22 years.  Just this week, I shut down the wedding website that I have maintained for all these years.  I finally felt I could do that after I set up the blog where this letter is now posted.  As you may have discovered, I transferred most of my sample wedding ceremonies and my planning advice to this site.  Who knows if anyone will ever look at those posts or find them useful, but I used to get a lot of compliments on the information I shared on my old website, so it made it easier to shut it down when I knew I had a place to post some of the information that used to be found there.  The differences between this website and my old one are that this one is much easier to maintain and it is set up as a personal website, rather than one that appears to represent a business.

Joys of Retirement.  This is the first year since my Sophomore Year of college that I have had no paid employment.  During that time, there have been periods of only part-time employment and short gaps of no employment, but there has always been income in some amount during the year.  It would be stressful to have no earned income if I didn’t benefit from Social Security payments, my husband’s state retirement benefits, and income from investments made over a long number of years.  Receiving Social Security and reliable retirement income is such a privilege.  It’s really the first time in our adult lives when there has not been a worry about what our income will be and how secure it is.  Having a steady and secure income (and no job responsibilities) has made it possible for us to travel much more than we ever previously felt we could.  It has also made it possible for us to be much more generous toward our favorite charities than was previously possible.

Health.  Just when we start to enjoy the Joys of Retirement, age-related issues catch up with us.  We just take things one step at a time and do what we can given the limitations we experience.  Hubbie had issues with walking but had surgery last year and has made a remarkable recovery.  I have had a number of small challenges that slowed me down for a time but then gradually went away or became manageable.  Once again, we both are grateful for good health, good medical care and the financial resources to pay medical bills.

Travel.  We have been doing a lot of traveling.  We feel like we are making up for the many years in which exploring exotic locations was not possible due to lack of funds, lack of vacation time and family commitments.   

Grandchildren.  This year we made three trips to visit grandchildren.  We are so thrilled to have grandchildren and their growing up years are so short, that we feel we need to visit as often as we reasonably can. 

Cuba.  In March I went as a “single” on a one week Road Scholar tour of Cuba, staying one night in Miami, followed by 3 nights in Cienfuegos and 4 nights in Havana.  I loved this trip!  I enjoyed the independence of traveling alone but within the safety of a group.  I loved seeing a place that is so different from the US and that had been off-limits to American travelers for most of my life.  I loved the chance to see for myself what life was like in a country which has been the subject of such contradictory news reporting.  I gained a lot of respect for the Cuban people I met, who were warm-hearted, attractive, fun-loving, curious, educated, talented, enthusiastic to learn more about people from abroad, and very excited for the future of their country which seemed at the time to be heading toward improved relations with the United States.  I learned to appreciate their healthcare system, their music and arts programs, their resourcefulness in making a satisfactory life with a minimal level of material goods, their love of their country, and a way of life which is, for the most part, devoid of advertising.  Because nearly everyone in Cuba has a low income, there is not a big division between rich and poor, and there do not appear to be the kinds of conflicts among different groups of people that we see in our country.  I am not overlooking the extreme problems they have in the production of food, maintenance of their buildings, lack of a free press and free elections, poor system of transportation, and other issues, but the negatives of Cuba have been known in the US for a long time.  The positives are what we seldom used to hear about, but that is changing.

Labrador and Newfoundland.  In July we went on our first alumni trip sponsored by Carleton College.  We had a geologist as one of the group leaders and many of our fellow travelers had advanced degrees in science.  Our law degrees and lack of science training made us the outliers of this group.  This being my husband’s first big trip following his surgery worried us a bit. However, he did fine and we enjoyed this trip immensely. The highlights were the pre-trip we arranged for ourselves to Halifax, a city we had visited before, accidentally visiting during a hurricane.  We felt we had missed a lot and wanted to return.  We tried to visit most of the museums and the historic citadel at the center of the city.  We met up with our tour group in Deer Lake and were escorted around by local guides to a variety of unique geologic sites as well as historic sites such as the first documented Viking settlement in North American and the remains of a Basque whaling village.  We wished we had taken a geology course or two in college but appreciated the many tourist-oriented visitor centers that provided explanations of what we were seeing.  The trip made us appreciate the wealth of history, both human and geologic, in Eastern Canada.  It is an area that those from the United States know little about and is well worth a visit.

Eastern Europe.  In late August we joined a Grand Circle river cruise from the Black Sea to Budapest, in addition to participating in a pre-trip in Transylvania and a post-trip in Vienna.  This trip was a substitute for two other trips we had planned which got cancelled for reasons beyond our control, so we were very glad we got a chance to complete it.  It was also interesting for me to visit countries that were still recovering from their years under Communist rule after my recent visit to Cuba, where the people hope to overcome some of the negative characteristics of their Communist government. We appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the history and people of the countries we visited:  Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Austria.  We had visited Budapest and Vienna previously, but all our other destinations were new to us.  When we hear news about Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and the possible weakening of NATO alliances, we have a new understanding of what that means for the countries we visited.  So much progress has been made integrating these countries into Europe and as members of the free world, that I hate to think that progress could be lost.  We highly recommend Grand Circle as a company to travel with and have two Grand Circle trips scheduled for 2017:  Mexico and South Africa.

Church Camp.  The church camp we attend is called Eliot Institute and it meets at the Seabeck Conference Center on Hood Canal on Washington’s Olympic Penninsula.  Fortunately for us, by taking the Edmonds to Kingston ferry, it is only a short drive to get there (plus a sometimes long ferry wait).  We have been attending Eliot camps every year for the past 26 years.  This year we went to the summer arts camp and will again be attending the winter camp.  What was new for us this year was my husband’s participation in the photography workshop and my participation in the writing workshop.  For the winter camp, my new experience will be as coordinator of the evening worship program.  We love seeing old friends and meeting new ones, in a beautiful location where we are always offered new experiences and ideas about ourselves, other people and the world.  I served three years on the Eliot Board of Directors, ending in January of this year, so it’s fun to be back in camp as just a participant rather than as a board member with policy and management responsibilities.

Volunteerism.  I have held many volunteer positions with various organizations over the years, particularly the American Association of University Women and my church.  When I closed my wedding business I made a conscious decision to drop out of all volunteer responsibilities.  I also pledged to myself that I would not take on any new positions until I’d allowed myself a period time to carefully evaluate what I wanted this retired stage of my life to be like.  I have mostly done this.  My final officer/board position with AAUW ended this summer.  While I have some new church jobs, I am not in any significant leadership position and not on any boards.  So, what will I do with my time?  I created my new website. I’m still going through boxes remaining from my office and accumulated stuff at home.  I’m hoping to go through family pictures and to organize some of the family history items I have. I still participate in book groups and am reading more books related to my travels.  I’m donating blood more often and taking time for exercise and walks around the neighborhood.  I enjoy keeping up with friends and news on facebook and am doing a better job of avoiding fake news and wasteful time spent on games and looking at cute animals.  I am becoming more strategic about charitable donations and am using some of the resources of the Seattle Foundation to learn better how to support charities.  I am doing a better job of listening to my body for help in deciding what activities are beneficial and what activities exact too high a price in terms of sleep, mysterious skin issues, recovery from sprains, general stress and risk of falls, to name a few.  I think I’ve made a lot of progress and look forward to seeing what lies ahead.

Politics.  I was a proud supporter of Hillary Clinton, partly because I both admired and identified with her career path.  We are about the same age, both law school graduates, both combined career and family responsibilities and both served in elected offices.  In addition, we both care deeply about the needs of disadvantaged people, the environment, and civil rights.  The election process has been very painful for the obvious reasons, but also because I kept identifying with the position she was in as the recipient of unfair and often false accusations of wrong-doing.  I couldn’t help but think about what I would do if I were in her shoes.  I admired how she handled her many challenges and, of course, am now very worried about the political future of our country and the world.  It seems very strange to have so many wonderful, happy things happening in my personal life and then be aware of so much hatred, conflict and suffering across our country and the world.  I do my part to clarify my personal values and do my best to stand up for those values in the community, my charitable giving, my advocacy through organizations and my personal interactions with other people.  We all need to do all we can to encourage our friends, neighbors, community leaders and elected officials to listen to one another and find respectful ways to solve common problems.  That’s my biggest wish for the coming year.

If you have read to the end of my letter, thank you for your time and attention.  The “About” page of this website has a response form that provides an opportunity for you to send comments to me.  If nothing else, having taken the time to read what I wrote, please leave a comment to tell me you visited my website.

I’m sending my best wishes to all my online friends for a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy and Peaceful New Year!

Carolyn Hayek


Carolyn Hayek