So long 2014.... in pictures!

Good lord, 2014. You were a crazy year.

Let's see, what were the highlights? In the life of my family, 2014 was a rollercoaster. Babies and weddings, weddings and babies, with a bonus college round for Jim.

• I celebrated my last birthday, folks. I turned 39 in March, and from now on I will be 39 plus tax, thankyouverymuch. If we gather in Memphis next March for cake and ice cream, there will be no number beginning with a 4 involved. Harrumph.

• My stepdaughter, Mallory, had an exciting year as well! First she became a wife...

Jim is pretending he isn't crying as he's about to give away his daughter.

... and then a mom. Which makes me a grandmother.

Welcome to the world, Isabella!

• Speaking of babies, my sister went and had herself one! Although little Olivia's timing meant that Melanie sadly had to miss our wedding, the world is a better place for more headstrong Donald women running amok in it. Here, meet my new little niece!

And from all reports, she's got a temperament equal to the other Donald women.

I'm thinking of writing a YA adventure of Olivia and Isabella. They're smart, brave and kickass. Olivia is the fighter and Isabella is the bookworm. Together they fight crime. And possibly zombies.

• I traveled just a little bit. Not quite as much as during the Furlough Tour, but there were still a hellacious number of nights in hotel rooms this year. Between conventions, book fairs, personal travel, author events, journalism conventions, the wedding and other shenanigans, I traveled to Madison, Ind.; Memphis, Tenn. (twice); Caraway and Blytheville, Ark.; Nashville (twice); Columbus, Ohio; Columbia, Mo.; the Lake of the Ozarks; Atlanta, Ga.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; the usual shenanigans around the metro-east and St. Louis... oh, and JAMAICA. 

They served us rum. A lot.

• Jim started college. We'd talked about it for years, and once he was an employee at the university, it actually became possible even with our pathetic finances. It still took another year to put him into a headlock to fill out the applications, because he was just so sure that he couldn't do it.... and he finished his first semester with an A and two B's, while simultaneously working full time, keeping up a convention schedule and getting freaking married. Which enables me to say I told you so. Please, everyone, a round of applause for the hardest-working freshman at SIUE!

Get back to studying, Froshy!

• I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting something important. Hang in there, it'll come to me.

• As an author, it was a quieter year than most. I released a novella, Gethsemane. It was an experiment to put something out myself; I couldn't sell the rights when it was promised free to the Kickstarter backers. So I put it out on Kindle, iBookstore and did a limited-edition dead-tree version for Literary Underworld. It's a weird creepy little piece, and I love it.
Pretend this isn't a shameless attempt to get you to buy it.

I toured at Conflation, Midsouthcon, Archon, Hypericon, DragonCon, Imaginarium, and did signings at Leclaire Parkfest, Mayfest, Collinsville Author Fair, Toyman, Madison Author Fair, and actually organized two group signings. One was the annual Eville Writers' Signing, and the other was part of Mayfest. I've probably forgotten a couple. For me, this was an average year. It's not quite the days when I averaged one appearance every three weeks, but I couldn't keep up that schedule and, y'know, manage to write anything. With the increased cost of travel, I will probably keep decreasing appearances (unless they pay my way), because the coming year looks very writer-heavy... but more on that later. Heh heh heh.

• As a journalist, it was a good year. Highlights include "Voices of Woodlawn Cemetery," the heroin coverage, covering two Congressional campaigns, and for fun, the number of puns I got to use in detailing the Catsup Bottle up for sale. I am finally starting to feel like I have a good handle on courts, though we didn't have many big trials this year. I met my personal goal on story counts and kicked its butt most of the time. My paper handled our Ferguson coverage with bravery, balance and responsibility. I survived October, in which we ramped up the final election coverage while training on an entirely new computer system and doing the annual school report card analysis. (Then I ran away to Jamaica.) 

But topping all of that was the privilege to work on the SPJ ethics code. It's been my honor to serve on the Society of Professional Journalists' national ethics commission for the past several years, and this year was enough to stun a rampaging Bantha in its tracks. We wrangled the new code through our own committee and subcommittees, then locked ourselves in a room in Columbus, Ohio for untold hours until we all agreed on a draft. Then we carried it through the national conference and got a majority of journalist representatives to agree it was a good code.

Let me tell you: you can't get a majority of journalists anywhere to agree on a bar bill, so that was a freaking miracle. 

Here we are.... (most of) the survivors.

• Despite being horrifically distracted and putting less time behind it than I have any previous year, my Relay for Life team raised $3,646 for the American Cancer Society, our all-time high. That makes a total of $25,609 we've raised since we started this thing. By "we," of course, I mean my awesome teammates and my family that was drafted into service. I only steer the ship; they do the rowing. Be warned: we're about to get rolling for 2015, and I intend to bust our records.

• Ian got taller. I know, you're shocked. He also got his learner's permit, so batten down your hatches, Edwardsville.

As we bid farewell to the Scooby Doo ride at Six Flags...

• Of course, not everything was awesome. We lost some good people. My friends lost an alarming number of relatives, and the con circuit lost one of its biggest fans and dear friends just this week. Others faced trials large and small: difficult diagnoses, layoffs, divorce. There were some difficult days, as blessed as we were.

• There was something else that happened. I know there was...

We clean up respectable-like.

Oh yeah! I got married!

Sure enough, Jim didn't come to his senses and run away, despite meeting most of my family members in the days leading up to the big event. Bookmakers everywhere lost their shirts. The wedding was an amazing weekend, surrounded by wonderful people with an inordinate amount of smartass, a positive, loving energy that filled every room and made it, quite simply, perfect. 

With dignity and grace.

My bridesmaids started calling it "ElizabethCon," which absolutely cracked me up. Hey, we're all used to cramming ourselves into hotel rooms, wearing elaborate fancy clothing, staying up much too late and going through bizarre rituals with strangers and close friends - though at ElizabethCon, nobody sold any books. That I know of.

And absolutely no silliness whatsoever. Very serious.

You can read the whole story on our blog (though I'm a post or two behind Jimmy; I've been busy!) and the photo slideshow will be ready as soon as I have several hours to finish it. 

Quite the motley crew.

People keep asking me, "How's married life?" The smartass answer is, "It's a lot like unmarried life," which is true. We're no longer violating the fun parts of Leviticus, but daily life is much the same. I cook the food, he does the dishes. We work, we eat lunch together when news permits. He studies, I write. He's still on night shifts and I'm still on days, so we continue to be ships passing in the night sometimes, but in general it's the way it has been since we moved in together years ago.

Except... not quite. When Jim made his case to me on why we should get married instead of living in sin for the rest of our lives, he said there was an intimacy to marriage, a deeper connection that he wanted to share with me. It put the question in a different frame for me than it was when I was insisting "better dead than wed" for years beforehand. 

He's a very wise man, my husband. There is a deeper intimacy and strong connection formed with marriage, and it's been delightful. Our priest told us as much: "I don't marry you," he said. Instead, he (and the church, through him) blesses the marriage that we make ourselves, the connection we form between us. That's what we spent all this time building, and what we will spend the rest of our lives making stronger.

In all, 2014 was a hell of a year. I must admit, the rollercoaster makes me a little leery of what craziness 2015 might hold. Half of me is jumping up and down with excitement; the rest of me wants to hide under the bed. But what fun would that be?

Happy New Year to all of you and yours, and may the blessings that have been so abundant in my life and my year fall upon you as well.

Wedding photos courtesy of Tom Atwood Media.