Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Year on Sabbatical - Final Analysis

I set out a number of goals at the beginning of the year. I didn't do everything I hoped, but I did accomplish other things that I hadn't planned. Here's the final analysis:

Improve my French before we travel to France! (I'm pretty rusty - it's been almost 2 decades since my highschool French classes).  Most of the improvement happened after getting to France, but I'm happy to report that I improved more than I thought I would.

Resurrect my bicycle riding skills (also rusty - I've hardly been on a bike since I got my driver's license at 16) and get comfortable riding in the city (I've only ever ridden on empty country roads with no traffic) - Grenoble is supposed to be a great city for cycling. Did not get on a bike once. Mark rode everywhere in Grenoble, and they did have great infrastructure for it. But the rental bikes were pretty clunky and everywhere we wanted to go had great bus or train connections. This goal gets deferred.

Cook more food from scratch (particularly from 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking', which I received as a Christmas gift from my mother). Did quite a bit of cooking, and was especially pleased with some creative solutions while cooking with minimal kitchen facilities in France. It was also a real pleasure to shop at the French markets daily.

Learn to preserve food (so that I can justify planting an even bigger garden once we're settled again for the growing season). Didn't do much on this front, as we weren't home for a full growing season in our garden, so we ate everything as it ripened. But there will be bigger garden plans for the future.

Learn to eat well with chopsticks (I have to finally commit to eating everything with them long enough to get enough practice). I felt so sheepish about putting this one off for the whole sabbatical that I finally cracked down and tackled it after the year ended.

Paint in watercolour regularly (I enjoy it so much, but it's easy to lose my finesse when I don't do it for a while). Didn't paint while in Washington, as the air was so humid I don't think the paint would have dried. Took a watercolour class with my friend Anne while in Toronto, which helped keep up the motivation. Did a bit of painting while in France, but there was so much to see and do that I didn't find it easy to take the time to stop and paint.

Catch up on reading books that I own but haven't read yet (which won't be easy when we're away from home), and books that I don't own, but want to read (I've got a long list built up from past years). Some books read, but the list continues to grow. Although this is the kind of goal you don't ever really want to cross off... Was pleasantly surprised to get a library card in Washington, where I made extensive use of the library system, and was also happy to start using the digital collection of the Toronto library system to read books on my laptop while traveling in France. And while in Toronto I discovered the MAP program which provides free passes to cultural attractions, which I made good use of.

Learn about green roofs (I've been seized with this desire ever since seeing green roofs everywhere in Norway, which covered even bus shelters and sheds). Done! The green roof conference in Vancouver was really inspiring and informative. If we ever have the resources to put a green roof on our home, shed or other structure, I will have lots of resources at hand to tackle it.

Learn to install tile (I think I'd be good at this, and I'd love to be able to put in a kitchen backsplash). Nope, didn't do this. And then we decided to move, whereupon the professionals took over during our renovation.

Volunteer (there should be many options for this, and I'm hoping to find something to do in each city we'll be staying in; off the top of my head I'm thinking of teaching, visiting people in hospitals, and getting involved in efforts to promote sustainable energy and agriculture). Didn't do anything on this front apart from helping to tutor a friend's daughter in English while we were in France - when you're only in one place for a few weeks at a time, you can't commit to an ongoing volunteer position.

Illustrate Mark's research (if I'm spending a year traveling around with a chemist who's doing research at various labs, I should learn more about what it involves, and put my scientific illustration skills to good use!). I had good intentions, but Mark kept telling me to do something more fun with my time off. Hard to argue with that.

Exercise regularly by hiking (something I wish I did more of currently), while always taking the time to stop and photograph/sketch/paint when I encounter a beautiful view. Done! The hiking in France was really fantastic, and we were lucky to make friends who took us along on many enjoyable trips.

Finally print and frame favourite photos from past trips (I've got a backlog of about 4 years). Printed some, but accumulated many more photos to work on in the future.

Devote lots of time to reading and editing my friend Jenn's stories (who deserves to be published! and if she was a full-time author, I'd have so much more great stuff to read) which she posts at: Done. And an excellent use of my time.

Learn to type with the Dvorak keyboard because it is super cool and way more efficient (I've always wanted to try it, but I know it's going to take so much practice to mentally re-map - and I'm scared I'll then forget my Qwerty typing - best to do it during a year off when it won't matter how fast I type). Didn't tackle this one, and I'd guess that if it didn't happen now, it's never going to. Why mess with what works?

What else did I do that I hadn't planned on?

I made many good friends while in France, which I hadn't anticipated. The French-English exchange groups were a great place to meet people who were interested in sight-seeing and trying new things. I hope I'll get the chance to visit my new friends again by returning to France for another extended stay.

Although it wasn't officially during the sabbatical year, I did delay my return to work so that we could get a puppy and invest lots of time in his early training. Thurmon kept me very busy for the first couple of months, with toilet training, walk training, and helping him overcome his fears of traffic, stairs, riding the subway and swimming. And he rewarded me with far more laughter and snuggles than I had imagined.

During my post-sabbatical work break I also sold my house (using a discount real estate service that kept me busy scheduling viewings) and found us a new one. And that segued into a year-long renovation during which I was an armchair interior designer/architect - good thing I'd only gone back to work part time! I read design books, cooked up ideas, revised endless plans and drawings, and shopped seemingly every weekend. I'd had a long-time interest in interior design and architecture, and it was very satisfying to live out that dream. In the end we have a beautiful, comfortable house that truly suits our way of life.