Saturday, December 31, 2005

The End of the Year

Tonight is, obviously, New Year's Eve, so it's customary to reflect back on the year that's now past. 2005 has been a very ... interesting ... year for me and my family. We rang in the New Year at my parents' house last year and almost as soon as we got back to Arizona, I began the final two flights to prepare for my private pilot license flight test. I took the test on the 5th of January and checked off one of my major life goals. Huzzah!

In February, my son turned 16 which is a milestone even for boys. He got his driver's license, and I grew about a dozen new grey hairs. Most of all, though, it dramatically pointed out that my little boy is well on his way to being a man. It's both a scary and proud time for a parent, let me tell you.

In March, my daughter turned two. Over the past year I've watched her grow from "baby" to "little girl." The transformation has been amazing. She is literally not the same person she was at the beginning of the year. Her language development has skyrocketed. She speaks in complete sentences, can carry on a good conversation with an adult, and can even recognize the first dozen or so letters of the alphabet. She can also spell her name, a fact she is inordinately proud of. What I find interesting is that because her "hardware" has changed, it is now incompatible with the early version of her "software." She no longer has access to her memories of being a baby or even a young toddler. A year ago she was still breastfeeding, but when she saw a picture of her nursing, the idea of drinking milk from Mommy's breast was completely foreign to her -- and yet a year ago she would even ask for it. It's amazing to watch the child and the child's personality bloom. I don't regret not going to Clarion this year. I can't imagine having missed the huge changes in my little girl.

In May, I decided it was time for me to make a major life change and leave NASA. I wasn't terribly happy at work (for reasons I won't go into), and at that point I was finally convinced that not only were things not going to change on their own, there was also nothing I could do to change them. I got the "Sunday night dreads" and knew it was time to move on. At the same time, I realized that my real overriding life goal was to be a science fiction author. I knew I could write -- I've had professionals tell me so -- and I had gotten a lot of practice refining my craft through writing educational curricula. The smart thing would have been to stay with NASA until I was firmly established in my writing career. But about this same time, my wife was offered a full-time position as a professor at the community college near here. This was her dream job, and it also meant that she would be making almost as much money as I did at NASA. We talked it over and decided that happiness with life was more important than having lots of money (and if we had remained a two-income family, we'd have been doing quite well). At that point, I set into motion the plans that would lead to my taking up my dream career myself. While we did have two incomes, I worked on paying down all of our debts (our home equity loan is the only one we have left, and we cut it in half) so that we could be financially secure ove rhte next year. I still get my military retirement pay, of course, and while we couldn't live on that, it does make a huge difference. Overall, we've been doing okay, even though working at home full time for the first time in my life still feels a little strange.

Over the summer, of course, I started this blog. :)

In August we sent the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter on its way to Mars, and it was fabulous being a V.I.P. at the launch. It was bittersweet because I knew this would be the last time I would get any "special treatment" from NASA. After this I would become just another member of the interested public. The spacecraft will arrive at Mars early this year, so there is still excitement to come. It's too bad I'll just be tracking it through Still, no regrets there.

In September I finally left my job at NASA and struck out on my own. I'm still working half-time for them until February (when this last project is due), as well as working on my Ph.D. The end result of that is that I haven't spent all day, every day writing fiction and articles as I had hoped, but that time will come in just a couple of months. Even so, I've already managed to sell a couple of articles as well as sent out some short stories to make the rounds. Most importantly, I've made significant progress on my first novel, so that's a major thing as well.

So now as we roll into 2006, it's been an eventful year, but there promises to be even more excitement in the year ahead. Part of me has this paranoid fear that it's all going to come crashing down this spring. I've never had as few safety nets as I do right now (but I've got some even now). A bigger part of me, though, is glad that I've finally taken steps on the adventure that I now realize I've always dreamed about. I'm happier than I've been in a long time, and that's no small thing.

Here's to 2006!

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