2018 in Retrospect
One of my favorite things to do is to look back on the year as it draws to a close. I think it’s often easy to get stuck in the trenches of the day-to-day things and harder to focus on the big picture changes and progress that have been made in the span of twelve months.
2018 was a difficult year for us. (Ries’ phrase is “hard-fought.”) We made huge strides towards our long term goals, but this year constantly felt like tug of war; we didn’t lose, but there were times when we felt like our losses were greater than our gains.
On January 1, you would have found me working at the front desk of a hotel in downtown Bloomington, and Ries anxiously anticipating the start of his second semester at IU, studying for a second bachelor's degree in Informatics.
Gus had just turned six months old and was recovering from a nasty respiratory cold that landed us in the ER on Christmas Day. He was new to sitting up and was starting to eat solid food.
When the semester started, Ries began a new position working as a UX Writer for IU, and in early February, I interviewed for - and was offered - a position as a housekeeping manager.
Later in February, we took a weekend trip up to Carmel to see the crazy development that has happened since Ries graduated from high school in 2007.
Much of March was spent at work or school, filling the in between times with our favorite little guy. I received news that I had been waitlisted for IU’s Creative Writing MFA program, and Ries anxiously awaited the decision on his application for the HCI/D masters program.
In April, Ries was celebrated as a Founder’s Scholar and admitted to the HCI/d masters program, shortening our estimated time back at school by two or three years.
Soon after, I was rejected from the MFA program, (I guess all the first round candidates accepted their spots) but received a copy of RHINO in which one of my poems was published. (More on that here.)
Around the same time, I submitted my resignation for the hotel after the working conditions proved unsustainable. Now, being a workaholic who was raised on a farm, it took a lot to get to this point, but the combination of poor training, an absent and micromanaging leadership team, and 10-13 hour days did the trick. All of that combined with cleaning up every imaginable bodily fluid pushed me over the edge. I ended up applying and receiving a transfer to a management position at a hotel in Indianapolis with a strong leadership team.
When the semester ended at the beginning of May, Ries was unexpectedly told that since he had completed all of the work his team assigned him to do in such a short time, they no longer had anything for him to do. Instead of increasing his hours over the summer like he was promised, he was told he could work “maybe five hours a week”. He resigned and began looking for other work.
It wasn’t meant to be. While a startup in Bloomington interviewed him and loved him, when the interviewers talked to their superiors to write up an offer letter, they were told the company would actually be making cuts due to poor finances, and they could no longer afford to hire Ries.
He continued to apply for positions in and outside of the tech field throughout the summer, but nothing came through for him. His mother, who had been watching Gus during the school year, had travel plans and suffered from health problems during the summer. As such, Ries ended up being a full time dad for the summer while I was working in Indianapolis.
At the beginning of June, Ries’ best friend, Tom, came out to Indiana to meet Gus and catch up with friends living in the Hoosier state. We were so happy Tom and Gus finally got to meet (and we got to see Tom for the first time since October 2016.)
One terrible day in June, I got up for work, left Ries and Gus asleep in bed, pet my faithful cat, Nugget, on the head, and left the house at 6:00am for my hour and a half commute, as was my normal daily routine. By the time I got to work, Ries called to tell me, “Something’s wrong with Nugget.” When I asked Ries to elaborate, he told me that Nugget was acting completely unlike himself, feral, and didn’t seem to recognize his family members.
When Ries couldn’t get Nugget in his crate, I drove home to help. Since all of the vets were closed in Bloomington because it was the weekend, we drove back to Indianapolis. Ries dropped me off at work and took Nugget to an Indy vet, thinking he had either broken a bone or eaten something toxic to cats.
Later, the vets told Ries that Nugget had likely suffered from a seizure caused by a brain tumor. He was seen by multiple vets in Indianapolis, and after several tests, (as well as a call to Nugget’s breeder, Ginger) we were told there was nothing to be done. We had to put down our beautiful cat. He was only three years old.
We cried the whole two hour drive home—which at that point was 1am, because one of the housekeepers had not shown up for work, so I had to clean rooms until 8:00pm while Ries was alone at the vet. That was a good summary our life at that point.
A week later, Gus turned one. (Ries’ thoughts on Gus’ first birthday and Nugget’s passing here.)
Gus’ first word was “Ina,” which is what he called Nugget. For the first few weeks after we lost Nugget, Gus would walk around the house looking for and calling for “Ina.” It was unbearable.
At first, we were so raw from losing Hiro, we thought we wouldn’t get another pet for a couple years. It quickly became apparent, however, that coming home to an empty house was not an option. We were fortunate that Ginger was able to replace Hiro with a new kitten because one of her friends (who was also a breeder) had recently died of cancer, and Ginger had inherited a litter of kittens from her.
At the end of June, Ries and I drove down to Chattanooga to meet Ginger (who lives in Georgia) and our new kitten, whose name at the time was “Pink/Orange,” because that was the color of her harness. It was our first time away from Gus overnight.
We were lucky enough to have Ries’ mom watch him, because Gus did not do well in the car for longer than an hour and a half. We had a nice evening and morning in Chattanooga and then headed home with our new kitten (she was so tiny!), who we named Whimsy. (View our intro to Whimsy article here.)
It was around this time that we decided it was time to leave hospitality. For anyone who has worked in hospitality, whether in the form of food service or hotels, you might know that there comes a point when it’s difficult to respect yourself when you are paid to clean other people’s messes and be kind to people who deserve a good talking to.
One night working at the hotel, a homeless man wandered into the hotel from Bloomington’s B-Line, and I encountered him in the hallway to our laundry room, talking to himself while he was defecating on our wall. He then proceeded to urinate all over the hallway, and being the only manager on property at the time, it was my responsibility to clean it up.
At the end of June, I was offered a position in government contracting. I had applied to similar positions since 2016 without any luck, so when the offer came through, I decided to leave hospitality once and for all, and started my new position the first week of July.
The same week, we took Gus to the Indianapolis Zoo for the very first time. It was very hot, but very fun.
In mid-July, I interviewed for - and was accepted into - Flatiron School’s Full Stack Web Development program. I had been talking to Ries and experimenting with programming for several months by this point, and actually cried when I got in.
At this point I had been a degree holder for five years, and hotel management was the only job I was qualified for. Getting into Flatiron’s Web Development program meant I would learn to code and can get an education that would be two things my undergraduate degree from DePauw was not: employable and profitable. I’m still chasing the certification, with the promise of working a job that doesn’t pay me to pick up used condoms or dispose of duvets that someone with Norovirus has vomited into repeatedly.
In July we also traveled out to Oregon for a family reunion, and I finally got to take Ries to Cannon Beach, which is something I’ve wanted to do since 2012. (Photos here.)
We also celebrated our five year anniversary while we were out there with brunch at Gather.
We got to introduce Gus to my family out in Oregon for the first time, including my my Grandma Pattie, my aunts, uncles, cousins, their children, and my Grandma Mary Ann, who passed away this fall. We got to stay with my brother and his girlfriend Paige, and to see all of the hard work they had done to clean up my grandmother’s house.
We also got to hang out with my little brother and sister in Portland and hit some of our favorite spots like Powell’s, Little Big Burger, and Fat Straw. Unfortunately we didn’t get any good photos of those adventures, likely because Gus caught a viral respiratory cold—the nasty kind with stridor where he was gasping for each breath—that landed us in a pediatric ER in the early hours of the morning, terrified he was going to stop breathing. (And of course, because of the timing of my job change, we were between insurance coverages. Because going to the ER on vacation wasn’t fun enough. HEY-OH, here’s my credit card.)
In August, we met my parents and took Ries and Gus to the Indiana State Fair. This was something that I have looked forward to since we moved back to Indiana. Ries had never been to the state fair before, at least not in the “Feller kid” capacity. My brother and I spent our summers working on 4-H projects and training our animals for the county and state fairs, so the Indiana State Fair holds a special place in my heart.
Ries’s graduate program orientation began in mid-August, which is also around the time I put in my two weeks for my contracting position so I could pursue my web development course more aggressively. I had hoped to work and take my class at the same time, but things just didn’t work out that way. (Ask me about that in person. It’s a fun story. And when I say fun, I mean messed up.) (See my post on my last day of work here.)
Ries’ mom ended up being gone for most of the month of September while she was getting dental implants in Costa Rica, so September ended up being the first month I was able to stay home with Gus full time in a year. (I had started working in October 2017.) I loved it, and coming home proved to be full of lessons.
There were several occasions where I was either working such long days at the hotel in Bloomington or I worked over eight hours in Indianapolis (but also spent three hours a day commuting) that I would leave Gus and Ries before they were awake, and I would get home after Gus had gone to sleep.
I worked nights. I worked every holiday. I worked weekends. I did the work of others when they didn’t show up to work. I carried the weight when my leadership team decided they didn’t want to do their jobs or weren’t qualified for the position they held. One of my managers did not know how to check in a guest or make adjustments to reservations. I ran room operations of a 168 room hotel during renovation single-handedly.
I learned a lot about myself. I learned that panicking about a bad situation only wastes time. I learned I get shit done. I learned the value of a good management team, and that a management team is perhaps the most important thing to me when I interview for a job. But it wasn’t without cost.
I suffered severely from burnout and physical exhaustion. I had to come to terms with the fact that I had missed most of Gus’ first year of life to make sure strangers checked into a clean room. It was necessary for me to work last year, but that didn’t make it any easier to swallow.
Another odd thing is that I now had a kitten who more or less didn’t know who I was. Nugget and I had a very clear relationship. I was his lonely, moody mama, and he was my grumpy, loyal companion and shadow. Whimsy and I had to establish our relationship once I stopped working, and that took some time and figuring out. She is now a huge baby, love sponge, and cuddle bug. She’s definitely Gus’ best friend, but she makes it very clear when she wants attention from her parents.
Due to health problems and managing her home in Florida, Ries’ mom ended up being gone unexpectedly for most of the semester, so I spent more time with Gus, and less time working on my course than anticipated.
During the fall semester, Ries and I had a strict schedule where we had every hour of the day planned out so that he would have time to complete his school work during the day, and I would have time to work on my class in the afternoon and weekends, alternating who was watching Gus, and who was using the one computer we have. Free time was simply not a thing last semester. We survived, but it was exhausting.
During our weekends in October, we visited my parents for their annual cider squeeze, went to the farmer’s market (photos here), and took Gus to a local pumpkin patch.
I introduced Gus to Winnie the Pooh, which led to him saying “Booh?” every time he wanted to watch Pooh or saw Pooh. We also spent a lot of time trying to hunt down pieces for our Halloween costumes, and while we took Gus trick-or-treating at the Bloomington brick and mortar shops before Halloween, we ended up accidentally sleeping through Halloween night trick-or-treating. (See our costumes here.)
November 1st ended up being an exciting day for us because we re-launched our blog, which had previously been on Tumblr. After working my contracted position, I decided that writing for our blog and making more regular updates was one of my priorities. I don’t know why, but it feels like it’s an important step in whatever comes next for us.
Other than staying home with Gus, and Ries and I spent most of November working on our respective classes.
In mid-November, Ries and his mom, Polli, attended the Bands of America Grand National Championship in Indianapolis. He was part of the Carmel marching band that won Nationals for the first time in Carmel High School history back in 2005, so it was an emotional experience to say the least, and a very important point in our time back in Indiana. Fittingly, the Carmel High School Marching Greyhounds won the national championship again in 2018 with Ries and Polli in the audience. It was Carmel’s third consecutive championship, and their fifth championship since 2005.
We celebrated Thanksgiving with one of Ries’ professors, as both of our parents left the state (or country) for the holiday. Over Thanksgiving break we got to reconnect with one of Ries’ best friends from college, William, who we met along with his wife Adrienne in Nashville, Indiana. We were lucky to spend a lovely afternoon there with them, and look forward to going back.
In late November, Ries hit an enormous milestone - the end of his 8 year military commitment. While he separated from the Marine Corps in late 2015, he was still under contractual obligation as an “inactive reservist”. As of November 30th, 2018, that obligation at last ran out. He is thankful to the Marine Corps for the many lessons it taught him. Now at last he has (to use his words) “officially ridden off into the sunset.”
In December, Ries finished out his semester with his first 4.0 GPA, and was selected as one of four groups to present his design proposal on food insecurity to IxDA (Interaction Design Association) and the Indianapolis Office of Food Policy. He presented it this month as part of IxDA’s After Work series.
I completed the first of five portfolio projects for my course, and passed the technical interview associated with the project earlier this month. (Click here to see a video of how it works.)
Gus was sick for most of the month, moving from a respiratory cold to an ear infection, a fever rash, and then we found out the hard way that he was allergic to penicillin, so he developed a severe rash all over his body. (Ah, the scarier parts of parenting.)
We visited my parents in mid-December before they left for Christmas festivities in Oregon.
We celebrated Christmas at home, and went over to Ries’ mom’s house for the afternoon and Christmas dinner. Gus was overwhelmed by opening presents, so most of his Christmas presents were received in January.
The day after Christmas, I traveled out to Oregon for 36 hours for my grandma’s memorial service. (See my post about what I did here.) During that time poor Ries ended up taking care of Gus by himself, which is a feat I have still not attempted. (I might have to make him a survival patch for it.)
When I returned home, we caught up on sleep, tried to decompress, and did our best to relax before another semester began. We stayed at home for New Year’s Eve, and I made us enough steak and potatoes for a family of four.
This year review really got out of hand. I think if 2018 taught us anything, it taught us to be self-reliant. It taught us that if we don’t pursue the things most important to us, we will never get them.
To be honest, I’d be glad to never have a year like 2018 again, but each year teaches an important lesson, and we’re optimistically looking forward to what 2019 brings.
Thanks for following us this year. Sometimes a comment or DM can really make a difference, and we really appreciate the support we’ve had during this difficult season of life.
-Amanda, Ries, Gus, and Whimsy