2016 Favorites

I woke this morning adrift. Last day of 2016, a year I thought would be MINE MINE MINE for the taking. Instead, it was a year of heartbreak and heartache for pretty much everyone. For me personally, it was a year of transition. Change is good; transition is tough.

I felt the need to be intentional about the upcoming weekend. The end of one year, the start of the next. It seemed whatever I did would set the tone for 2017.

Which is silly, of course. This arbitrary marker of time. I look out the window at the gentle snow drifting past the cedar trees. Nature hasn’t gotten the message that it’s time to turn a new leaf. She’s still in the middle of winter.

Still though, it’s never a bad time to start fresh, to shake off the dust that’s been gathering and set new intentions for a better tomorrow.

I almost wasn’t going to do my favorites this year. All I want to do is look FORWARD, move on, no looking back. But that would be a disservice to myself, and to the year past. Because while, collectively, it wasn’t our best year, there were still some bright moments.

Movies

This one didn’t get the best reception, but I loved Hail, CaesarI grinned the whole way through. No, there wasn’t much plot, but that wasn’t the point — this was a tribute to movies of yesteryear, to the so-called “Golden Years” of Hollywood. It just made me happy, and sometimes that’s all you want out of a movie.

Plus, it gave us this glorious moment:

Oh! And how could I forget the new Ghostbusters? Another delight, from beginning to end. (And even better for the fact that it enraged the Internet Trolls.)

Books

Already mentioned — but if I have to pick just two, it’d be Station Eleven and The Fifth Season.

Oh, and an honorable mention to Calvin and Hobbes. I spent the majority of the year reading through the full anthology. Is there anything better than snuggling on the couch with cocoa, a cat and a comic book? So many years later, the friendship between a boy and a tiger still makes me warm and cozy inside.

Music

Whenever I needed a pick-me-up this year — a “HELL YEAH YOU CAN DO IT” boost — this one got cranked up.

But looking back at my most-played songs of Spotify, there’s one other that dominated.

I remember playing this one on repeat on New Year’s Day last year, and it just never stopped. Something about this song just gets me. I missed the opportunity to see them in concert in 2016 — fingers crossed I’ll get that chance this year.

Moments

Oh, so many.

Sitting in the meadow at Hedgebrook, in the full early-summer sun, watching the tiniest frog make his way through a forest of grass.

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Dancing so hard at my sister’s wedding that the next day my arms were sore. Apparently, I throw in a lot of arm moves while dancing.

Successfully reaching Sperry Chalet after a strenuous hike through Glacier National Park. (And NOT being eaten by a grizzly bear.)

Watching the sun set over the Pacific ocean during my first-ever backpacking trip. Watching the tide roll in the next morning.

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Experiencing the odd zen-like sensation of riding on the back of a scooter through Ho Chi Minh City.

Sitting in the shallows of the Gulf of Thailand, gently picking up sea urchins and setting them back. Watching hundreds of tiny crabs form perfect circles of white sand.

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Exploring a quiet cove on Lopez Island with friends. Exploring a snowy lava field outside Bend, Oregon.

Taking my mom, a life-long Beatles fan, to see Paul McCartney in concert for the first time ever.

Watching a hummingbird build her nest outside our bedroom window, getting to see the eggs hatch and grow and fly.

All those and more — that’s what makes me realize it wasn’t a totally lost year.

Food

Ina Garten’s baked risotto –- my go-to comfort dish this year.

A veggie torta — side of rice and beans — from the taco truck in our neighborhood. TACO TRUCKS ON EVERY CORNER PLEASE.

There were so many intriguing, new-to-me dishes in Vietnam that it’s hard to pinpoint just a handful. Vietnamese coffee, of course, with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk. A stir-fried dish of fish sauce, peanuts, shredded green papaya and beef lung. (I know, I know, but it was GOOD.) Dozens of dishes of chè, a pudding-like dessert.

Top of the list though: an ah-maz-ing seafood feast in the Night Market on Phu Quoc island. Crab with tamarind sauce, grilled calamari, sea urchin with peanuts and lime, mantis shrimp, all washed down with light beer, eaten under neon street lights with scooters going by. Heaven.


Look for the bright spots. Spend some time today thinking of yours from the past year. I promise, it’s worth it.

‘Tis the Season

Things I dislike about this time of year:

  1. Dropping temperatures. I got home the other night and said to Byron, “I just realized I’m entering five months of never being warm again.” He agreed that yes, that was probably true.
  2. The serious financial budgeting that this time of year entails. And, I totally know, we’re fortunate that we CAN afford it. I’m sure it’s much more stressful for others.
  3. The decreasing daylight. Right now it’s 7:20am and just starting to get light outside my window. And that’s actually pretty good. Talk to me when it’s 8am and still pitch black out.
  4. Trying to figure out a new skincare regimen to combat my increasingly dry skin.
  5. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Green Tuesday. Which I’m pretty sure is actually a thing now and not something I just made up.
  6. Having to pretend like I watched last night’s football game.
  7. The fireworks that go off in our neighborhood to accompany last night’s football game.
  8. Not being able to work in the yard as much, because a) cold, and b) dark.
  9. All the holiday obligations. Our December calendar is already booked. I don’t think there’s a free weekend on there.
  10. Wearing two layers of clothing around the house because I’LL NEVER BE WARM AGAIN.

Things I like about this time of year:

  1. Lighting candles in the living room as soon as I wake up in the morning, and as soon as I get home in the evening.
  2. Grapefruit. Satsumas. Meyer lemon.
  3. Trying to figure out a new skincare regimen to combat my increasingly dry skin. (Yeah, it’s on there twice. Because it’s annoying, but also… playing with beauty products!)
  4. Eagerly awaiting the annual Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog.
  5. Reading a book in front of the fireplace with a cat. Preferably two cats.
  6. On those rare days when daylight and sunshine and free time collide–grabbing the gardening tools and going out and breathing in the smell of wet dirt.
  7. Finding out what my top 10 Instagram photos of the year are #narcissist
  8. Watching the dog snuffle around in fallen leaves on our morning walks.
  9. Dinners with friends and family. It makes for a busy month… but gathering over homemade food is always time well spent.
  10. Pies. Cookies. Scones. Basically having a really good excuse to bake ALL THE THINGS.
  11. More time indoors = more time for writing.

Between Ease & Effort

A few months back I started taking yoga classes to get some sort of activity in my life that is not dog-walking. The other day, one of the instructors was talking about the space between ease and effort: how every pose should be a balance between those two. We should be pushing ourselves to be better (the effort), while also finding the comfort and joy in each move (the ease).

On our recent road trip though Montana, my brain mulled over this concept. We were on a long straight highway, clear as the eye can see. Looking at the world stretch out before us. A valley between sharp hills, west of the Rockies, with conifers clustered in gullies. Early morning sun making long shadows across tall grass, the occasional hawk poised overhead. A sky so big and blue it hurts the eyes.

The more I see of it, the more in love I am with the world. Why would anyone think there is anything better than right here, right now, this beautiful perfect earth that we have?

I get the feeling of seeing it all for the first time, the first time, as if no other eyes have devoured this landscape. Greedy. It fills you with such joy and such loneliness. It is good to look at rocks and realize how young, how small you are to this place. I could drink in all the world and never get enough.

2016 has been a big one for me in terms of trying new things, putting myself out there. Hedgebrook, going on my first-ever backpacking trip, making the decision to take the leap and leave my job… I couldn’t have foreseen how this year has gone. And I’m glad for that. I always want to see like this: filled with wonder at what the earth created.

This is how I want to live my life: full of adventure and a just a tad bit of uncomfortableness. Between ease and effort. It’s the balance between those two where you really shine.

What I Learned at Hedgebrook

The last week of June, I attended a Master Class at Hedgebrook. For seven whole days this was my home:

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An adorable little cottage under the cedar and maple trees, all to my own.

When I returned to the real world, everyone asked, “How was it??” And I replied, “Amazing!” Which was the truth–but not the whole truth. Being there WAS amazing. It was also surreal and difficult and kind of like being on another planet. No matter how hard I try, I can’t wrap up the experience with a single word, one wise thought, one feeling.

It seems easier instead to make a list. Things I learned at Hedgebrook.

  • I need structure. I arrived at Hedgebrook ready to WORK, to WRITE, to get down ALL THE WORDS…and whoa that did not happen the first few days. I wrote a bit, but mostly I kind of flopped around, trying to find my footing. By the end of Day 2 I realized what was missing: a routine. Every day I woke up, started a fire in my wood stove, drank coffee while writing morning pages. Then it was time for a meandering walk in the woods. After that I was able to settle down and get to business. Creating my own structure gave meaning to the day and made it easier to focus.
  • Fawn are really loud when they’re crashing through the brush. Like, “I’m maybe about to be eaten by a cougar” loud.
  • I start losing syntax VERY quickly after several days of solitude. My thoughts start floating, drifting. I focused on the sounds of words, repeating them over and over in my head. I had to consciously pull it back together before class, before interacting with other people, to ensure that I could form normal human sentences. Re-reading my journal from that week is like some trippy day trip into another dimension.
  • I can’t write for eight hours straight. Supposedly some writers do this? They probably have elfin blood in them.
  • I got surprisingly lonely. I’m an introvert by nature, so I definitely don’t mind solitude. But the first few evenings alone in my cabin were rough. I missed my routines, I missed my people. This got easier as the days went on.
  • Some scenes really do need to be handwritten. One chapter of my book was not working. I stared and stared at the laptop, trying to fix it, before finally picking up my notebook, heading to the cozy overstuffed chair and rewriting the scene by hand. And YES. That did it. That broke the spell. The chapter went in a totally different direction — what it had needed all along. That connection of pen to paper fires up some different synapses in the brain.
  • Writing makes me HUNGRY. Dear lord I ate so much food. Raspberries and pot pies and cherry-cornmeal cakes and mounds and mounds of homegrown vegetables. The brain is a big ol’ organ, and I apparently had to sustain it.
  • Left to its own devices, my mind turns toward the fantastic. Every time I wandered through the woods, my thoughts drifted to Narnia, to Hansel and Gretel, to the Sidhe, to children and young maidens being flitted away, never to be seen again. Maybe these seem like scary thoughts, but they weren’t. They were comforting.
  • On Day 3 I started saying good morning to the banana slugs. So there’s that.
  • Writing? It’s a process. Some days I racked up the word count, knocking it out of the park. Some days I stared out the window for hours, doodling and noodling. Those days seemed frustrating at the time…but in hindsight, they were necessary. There’s ebbs and flows and that’s ok.

That’s the biggest thing I’m trying to keep with me post-Hedgebrook: focusing on the process rather than the product. Because if not for the process…why do this? Why write at all?

I no longer feel ragey when I think of my 2nd draft. I’m working it out, smoothing out the kinks. It’ll get there. I’ve broken through the block and that’s what matters.

(PS: Women writers! Hedgebrook is currently open for residency applications. DO IT.)

Summer, Summer, Glorious Summer

High hot days and cool windy nights. Twilights that never end. Bats zig-zagging in the dusk, feasting on flying termites. Blueberries. Huckleberries. Blackberries, still warm from the sun. One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me. Fingers stained a permanent purple.

Sticking your head into a dinner-plate-sized rose and breathing in the pear scent. Crunching toes in dry grass. Listening to the bumblebees lumber from salvia, hyssop, lavender, collecting bright yellow pollen on fat black legs.

Sitting on the edge of a mountain-fed river, strong and tired and hungry from swimming. Hot rocks warming wet swimsuit, the sun dry on your back. Listening to nothing but the water catch and fall on rock. Remembering this warm summer moment for the winter ahead, storing it as an insect for the dark months to come.

Mint picked and pressed into lemonade. Five o’clock and the smell of charcoal filling a neighborhood. No reason, no reason at all to go inside and go to bed. There is no work, there is no tomorrow. There is only summer.

Walk, Read, Write

The way I see it, if I can manage to do these 3 things every day, I’m doing alright:

  1. Walk
  2. Read
  3. Write
The first one clears my head. The second two feed me.

I’m not adding any time limits or stipulations. One thing I figured out from 2015 was to be a little kinder to myself. If I just get in a 10-minute walk, a bus ride of reading, a page of prose…that is so much better than nothing.

Full disclosure: I did not finish the second draft of my book by the end of year, like I had planned. And while I’m a bit disappointed (and mostly like OMG WANT TO FINISH THIS STUPID THING), I’m not beating myself up about it. The ending of the book is…rougher than I had remembered. A lot had to be totally scrapped, a lot written anew. The main point is I’ve been working on it, almost every day.

Austin Kleon has a blog post about how we spend our days. Ultimately, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. It may seem small, but focusing on just three things every day adds up.

Last week I was tired. Eyeball-ache tired. I hadn’t slept well, had a 9am meeting I was stressed out about, slept on my neck funny. I farted away my morning writing time on the internet and really didn’t want to walk the dog. But I pulled on my super-stylish safety vest and headed out.

A small sliver of crescent moon hung above the neighbor’s house. Towards the end of the walk, I noticed that the horizon was turning the most vibrant shade of cerulean blue. Only a week ago, it was still pitch black at that time. The days are slowly creeping longer, and I wouldn’t have noticed if I’d stayed inside.

Walk. Read. Write.

2015 Favorites

It’s not weird to me that 2015 is almost over — what’s weird is that 2016 is next. How is it that we’re suddenly in the future, where self-driving cars and computer watches and hover boards are all actual things that exist? And yet here at home, the height of normality reigns. I sit here in my sweatpants, drinking coffee out of my writer’s mug, while a cat purrs from the desk and a dog stares at me from the floor. These are all good things.

I’m excited for 2016. 2015 was a rough year in some ways, but it was also kind of magical. Restorative. There was a lot of travel, a lot of reading. I curled up into a cocoon and took care of me. And now I’m ready to bust out and say OH HAI to 2016.

But before we move on — a look back, as I do every year. My favorites from the past year — I’ll be eager to hear yours.

Movies

I did NOT want to go see this movie. I typically don’t like full-on action flicks, and one that was basically one long extended car chase…nooooo thank you. But I was cajoled… and five minutes into the movie, I was sitting there with my mouth open.

The visuals, the feminist plot, the crazy pounding music…I was hooked. I’d never seen any of the Mad Max movies before (and still haven’t seen the prior ones), so don’t know how Mad Max: Fury Road compares. But WHOA was it a kick to the nerves.

On the total opposite end of the spectrum: Inside Out. Thank you, Pixar, for creating yet ANOTHER movie that makes everyone in the theater cry.

Books

I just did my 2015 book re-cap, and I suppose all of those could be counted as “best of’s” for the year. But if I had to narrow it down… I’d go with The Sixth ExtinctionCreativity, Inc. and Half of a Yellow Sun. The first two because they kept me thinking long after I’d finished the books. And the last because — while it’s suuuuper depressing — it’s hauntingly beautiful and showed me a story I hadn’t encountered before.

Oh, and one more… I didn’t include this on my re-cap list, because it seemed like a bit of a cheat. But this year I re-read Watership Down, one of my all-time favorites. I read it on my trip to Greece (more on that later, I promise) — and I don’t know if it was the setting, or because it had been so long since I last read it, but I fell head-over-heels-in-love with this book all over again. Sitting overlooking a caldera, reading about the rabbits’ search for a new home, looking out to the endless sea and comparing this to the tale of Odysseus…that’s a memory that’ll stick.

Music

One band dominated the year for me. In April, we flew down to San Francisco to see them play because they didn’t have any upcoming concerts in the Seattle area. And when they DID come to Seattle in August… yup, we went to that show, too.

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And if I’d had the opportunity to see Alabama Shakes a third time this year? You’d better believe I’d be RIGHT THERE. The bands two albums are good — but if you can, go see them live. Brittany Howard is a powerhouse. Watching her play and sing, I got the distinct impression that I was watching someone very, very special…like, one day I’d be looking back and saying, “Yes, you young whipper-snapper, I saw Brittany in her early days. Go ahead, be jealous.”

If I had to pick one favorite song…I can’t. So here’s two.

 

Moments

Man. I hadn’t fully realized until I did that #2015bestnine thing, but 2015 was an epic year.

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Walking along the Cliffs of Moher. Discovering a sunken tree-fern forest at Blarney Castle.

Floating on Lake Washington with my bestie. Sitting at a picnic table at Crystal Mountain in the later summer sun, reading a a book next to my mom. Fly fishing and actually catching fish.

Swimming and snorkeling in the Aegean. Taking shots of raki with a Cretan restaurant owner. Basking in the sunset at the Acropolis.

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Attending the Hedgebrook writing workshop with my friend Val.

Driving through central Oregon with no AC, sinking into the heat like a lizard, reveling in the beauty that is Painted Hills.

I did SO MUCH this year — yet it still felt balanced. I need to strive for that in 2016 as well.

Food

You guys, do you know about taramosalata? It is SO AMAZING and SO NOT AVAILABLE in this country. I ate it every chance I got in Greece and now need to find the ingredients to make it at home. Byron will totally hate its fishy taste…but that just means more for me.

Speaking of fishy taste — Irish smoked salmon. I don’t know why, but it’s different than other smoked salmon. It’s smooth and silky and subtly sweet. It’s like biting into a piece of the ocean. I ate my weight in it and would happily eat it every day if I could.

Other than that…this was admittedly a weird food year for me. I started seeing a naturopath, did some allergy testing, and as a result cut out dairy, eggs and a whole lot of other crap for most of the year. I’m starting to eat them a bit now…but for a lot of the year, I was basically eating vegan.

So when I ate cheese? I REALLY relished it. You guys, cheese is AMAZING. If you can, eat it for every meal, every day.

I also developed a deep appreciation for hot toddies in Ireland that continued through the year. Hot toddies cure what ails you. Hot toddies are a dollop of sunshine on a cold, damp day. Which is a LOT of days in the Pacific Northwest, which means they’re basically the perfect Northwest drink.

What are your favorites from 2015