Categories
Reading

My year in reading, 2022

I started the year with a burst of philosophical ambition, thanks to Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, a clever and surprisingly quick read that turns the self-help genre on its head. And yet because I am but a lowly mortal, I boomeranged back to the most desperate kind of self-help with Suzy Giordano and Lisa Abidin’s Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks’ Old, a goofy little handbook that gave us new parents the confidence we needed to start sleep training when the time was right. Scott Hershovitz’s Nasty, Brutish and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids made me smile and daydream about the conversations I’ll have with Maeve as she grows older.

Novels helped me escape, starting with Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, which was a fitting parable about the importance of stories. I further flirted with sci-fi in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, which threatened to break my heart. Kawai Strong Washburn‘s Sharks in the Time of Saviors kept me company in the wee hours while breastfeeding, as did Ash Davidson’s Damnation Spring. I finally fell for the allure of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which gave me more relief than I’d expected. Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson kept me glued to the couch, and Vladimir by Julia May Jonas had me howling with laughter and gasping in shock. I loved the beauty and hope (and the nuns) of Lauren Groff’s Matrix. Laura Warrell’s Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm read like a jazz song.

I read a bunch of books on motherhood and art and identity — the central theme of my year. Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers hit a little too close to home, but was devastatingly good. I laughed out loud at the release and the wildness of Rachel Yoder’s Nightbitch and liked Amelia Morris’ Wildcat, in a similar vein. Alison Gopnik’s The Gardener and The Carpenter provided helpful context that I’ll be thinking about for years. I’m grateful for The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood by Krys Malcolm Belc, a powerful read. Ryan and I both appreciated Courtney Martin’s Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from My Daughter’s School and we both read Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change by Angela Garbes, too. I hadn’t heard of Jessi Klein before 2022, when I read I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays on Motherhood and Midlife. It was entertaining, but I’d recommend the opening essay (a gold standard, to me) before the entire collection. Sally Mann’s Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs gave me a lot to think about, although I wish I’d read it in print instead of ebook format. (I’ve written more on a few of these books here.)

A few more memoirs: I’d been waiting to read Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford for a long time, and it was beautiful. I gobbled up Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile, which made me seek out the accompanying playlist immediately. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy was both tragic and hopeful, and Burn Rate: Launching A Startup and Losing My Mind by Andy Dunn had an incredibly clear description of living with bipolar disorder. Remarkable writing.

I read The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life by Mark Epstein, M.D., thanks to this review by Oliver Burkeman. I took Sherry Turkle’s The Empathy Diaries off of my shelf for the first time and found myself fascinated by the history of psychoanalysis alongside the author’s own story. Late this year, I read and really admired Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker.

Here are a few final books that didn’t quite seem to fit in other categories: Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage by Heather Havrilesky, which made me work for it, although by the end I appreciated the ride (a fitting metaphor for marriage, perhaps?) I enjoyed Having and Being Had by Eula Biss, an author I always admire. I also read the classic novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

I’m always eager to hear book suggestions, ideas, and reviews. Send ’em if you’ve got ’em!

Categories
Miscellany

100 things that made my year in 2022

1. Endless amounts of baby spit up. Spot cleaning her clothes, our clothes, the couch, and every pillow we own. Running laundry and then more laundry.

2. Taking delight in simple joys like small-batch jam and cordials.

3. Courtney Martin’s essay about contracting covid and reflecting on what the pandemic has done to the stories we tell ourselves about others.

4. Night sweats.

5. Watching local news at 7 am when taking the early morning shift with the baby. Claiming favorite meteorologists and trying to shake off the jingles from local commercials.

6. Taking anti-racist action by moving half of our savings from a big corporate bank to Hope Credit Union as transformational investors.

7. Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.

8. Going to pelvic floor physical therapy sessions and learning more about the structure and function of one of the body’s most essential muscle groups. Sarah Stoller on reconnecting with her postpartum body through weight lifting. Working out with Ashley Nowe.

9. Feeling very confused about how to show up in public.

10. PCR tests and booster shots. Lots of first-year vaccines. Still masking and staying home as much of the world moved on from the pandemic.

11. Unlearning the many stealthy, relentless ways that diet culture has embedded itself in my beliefs and habits. Listening to Maintenance Phase, reading Virginia Sole-Smith, and embracing food as nourishment, comfort and fuel.

12. Making lists to attempt to order the chaos of life as a new mother.

13. Rethinking my image of work.

14. Finding solidarity and solace in Erin Gloria Ryan’s newsletter Just Enjoy It While You Can.

15. Good TV at all hours of the day and night. The Sex Lives of College Girls. The Letdown. The Bear. Better Things. Rap Sh!t. Ramy. The White Lotus. Reservation Dogs. Hacks. Never Have I Ever.

16. Reading while breastfeeding and fuming about this country’s systemic failures to provide care infrastructure.

17. Doubling down on my caffeine consumption.

18. Jessi Klein’s pitch-perfect essay on motherhood as the hero’s journey.

19. Getting a second wind after putting the baby to sleep. Watching a ton of TV. Talking it out. Making plans. Making out. Writing newsletters.

20. Quiet walks on the Oregon coast. Dipping Maeve’s pacifier in the ocean to give her a first taste of sea water. Introducing her to sea anemones. Letting her eat sand.

21. Learning to bake a cake and eat it, too.

22. Gobbling down a bunch of books about art, identity, and motherhood. The Gardener and the Carpenter. The School for Good Mothers. Essential Labor. Nightbitch. Learning in Public. Wildcat. Sally Mann’s memoir Hold Still.

23. Thinking about non-linear career growth and evolution, thanks to Jenni Gritters. Joining The Writers’ Co-op Patreon community to dig deeper into strategy for my own business. Embracing the idea of the career river.

24. Spending a long weekend with my college girlfriends, sharing our hobbies and secrets and fears and messy selves with each other, as we’ve done now for 13 years, leaving one another feeling better than when we came together.

25. Writing a monthly newsletter and realizing along the way that we were creating a sort of digital baby book to mark our daughter’s growth and emerging personality. Receiving sweet replies from friends and family near and far.

26. Spiraling out in my journal.

27. Embracing the bioregion in my backyard.

28. Eric Carle books.

29. Hikes with Maeve in the front pack. Parents greeting her at the arboretum and in Marshall Park. Stroller walks in the neighborhood. Holding her hands as she toddles down the block and drops to her knees to eat leaves and moss.

30. Identifying and indulging in vacation foods, as inspired by Kathryn Jezer-Morton. For us, it’s cherry Cokes and microwave popcorn.

31. Empanadas and people-watching at the Portland Mercado in late spring. The baby hanging out in the car seat, taking it all in.

32. Playing chase and peek-a-boo with Maeve. Teaching her how to clap, wave and gesture that she’s “so big!”

33. Taking more iPhone videos. Rachel Cusk on taking photos of our children.

34. Breastfeeding in the backseat, on park benches, in exam rooms at doctor’s offices, in bed, on the couch, on a blanket, on a log.

35. Hiking at Oxbow Regional Park and seeing deer, salmonberries, and fairy slipper orchards. Changing Maeve on a bench before realizing there was a changing table around the corner. Eating lunch on the picnic tables at Sugarpine.

36. Growing my freelance business from two to seven clients. Juggling work, business strategy, and the endless daily responsibilities of caring for an infant.

37. Postpartum hair loss. Wearing my hair in a bun more than ever before to try to get ahead of my baby’s grabby little fingers. Finding loose hairs all over the house.

38. Doing what I love in front of my daughter, even when it feels like she’s too young to take it all in. Baking for fun. Journaling in the mornings. Dancing to music. Playing the ukulele poorly. Reading for breadth and depth. Talking it out. Getting outside.

39. Feeling Very Adult when writing notes for the babysitter.

40. Sleep training. Putting on noise-canceling headphones when my nerves were frayed by the process. In the end, finding deep comfort and some wonder in the knowledge that our daughter is learning to care for herself.

41. Making a snowperson on the back deck after a mid-April snowstorm.

42. Playing with a Pentel brush pen.

43. Maeve’s rosy cheeks after a bath.

44. Falling asleep to the sound of a hard rain.

45. Making a regular habit of 8:00 Sunday mass, since we’re up already. Getting donuts after church on the first weekend of the month. Fr. Mike telling us that our daughter has “vacuum-cleaner eyes — they suck you right in.”

46. Maeve’s baptism in May by our dear friend Lucas. Celebrating with Missouri and Oregon family. Tacos and margaritas. Kid-friendly rosaries and toys that recite prayers.

47. Accidentally buying Ryan a birthday card that was meant to be from (or about) a pet dog.

48. Velcro swaddles. Sleep sacks. White noise machines. Watching the video monitor. Taking shifts in the early weeks to get more consecutive sleep. Suffering through the four-month sleep regression. The time when Maeve was a couple of days old and Ryan swaddled her in a confusing blanket with snaps that we later realized was a car seat cover. Maeve napping in my grandma’s coat closet and my parents’ walk-in closet.

49. Breastfeeding in the middle of the night with a red lightbulb in the floor lamp.

50. Eating so much food. Bedtime snacks. Big meals. Getting up in the middle of the night for a string cheese or a protein bar when I was too hungry to sleep.

51. Moving during July, again. Sweating and fretting and putting my daughter in a moving box to entertain her. Learning that our dishwasher has a top utensil drawer.

52. Making terrible line drawings in an attempt to capture ordinary moments in our house.

53. Reflecting on the gifts that my Grandpa Walt gave me and everyone who knew him.

54. Baths with Maeve.

55. Getting away for a weekend and enjoying some time on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. Hiking in the rain. Taking Maeve to the lodge dining room in her car seat. Family naps on the big hotel bed. Having the pool all to ourselves. Splurging on room service breakfast.

56. Movies that made me think. Roadrunner. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Everything Everywhere All At Once.

57. Being stuck under a sleeping baby and trying to savor the moment. Maeve turning to me or Ryan for comfort and sucking her thumb while laying her head on our closest body part. Her using our bodies as climbing towers.

58. Cooking with Julia Turshen for our third anniversary.

59. Near-daily texts from my retired writer and painter friend.

60. Practicing embodiment and thinking about repair as a form of self-care. Injuring my knee and my ankle and going back to PT. Relearning how to re-regulate.

61. Using the Libby app and reading ebooks from the library on my Kobo.

62. Planting annuals in three big planters on the deck. Stepping outside to visit the flowers.

63. Eating Jimmy John’s sandwiches in a parking lot on more than one road trip.

64. Thinking about the ancestors and mentors in my chosen family after reading Jonny Sun’s essay on his high school drama teacher.

65. Buttermilk biscuits and the tall, fluffy buttermilk pancakes from Smitten Kitchen.

66. Thinking about home décor as a “joyful jumble” of art and objects that reflect our lives, not Instagram ideals.

67. Celebrating Lucas’ ordination in Spokane. Invigorating conversations with smart friends and acquaintances. Pizza on picnic blankets in the park. Driving to Coeur d’Alene on the back roads. Indian takeout and kid chaos. Lucas’ mentor telling us that her students wrote a spoof of General Hospital in Lucas’ honor and they called it General Infirmary.

68. Poetry. Ada Limón’s “How to Triumph Like A Girl.” “Islands” by Muriel Rukeyser. Maggie Smith’s “Rain, New Year’s Eve.”

69. A summer babysitter.

70. Taking our daughter on her first flight to visit her family in Missouri. Remembering that the Midwest normal is different than life in the Pacific Northwest.

71. Angela Garbes’ description of her “pleasure-forward” approach to life and mothering.

72. Teaching Maeve to say “ahhh!” so that I could give her vitamin D3 drops. Her giggling when I floated a plastic bag in the air. The surprise of one of her first words being “CATTT.”

73. Finishing the expert-level ropes course at Tree to Tree Adventure Park to celebrate a local friend.

74. Ordering takeout on the first night back home from vacations.

75. Finally getting a custom nightguard to save my teeth and my jaw muscles from grinding while sleeping.

76. Laughing harder than Ryan while watching Jackass 4.5.

77. Celebrating three years of marriage while stuck in a Vancouver, B.C., hotel room with a feverish baby who couldn’t sleep.

78. Trying to live with limitations. Having no working kitchen range for a month. Being without reliable internet access for two weeks. Working with a child underfoot.

79. My first gray hairs.

80. Collecting as many guides as I can find to making art as a parent. Taking heart in the fact that babies aren’t babies for very long.

81. Making a Rubbermaid shoe storage container into a makeshift backyard pool.

82. Taking marriage inspiration from artists Bernd and Hilla Becher and volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft.

83. Giving and getting free items via the Freeya app.

84. Summer bike rides with Maeve in the trailer. Taking Ryan on his first Bridge Pedal. Sharing the bike so that he can commute to work.

85. Sinking into the comfort of a surprising time capsule in the early episodes of Home Cooking.

86. Taking ourselves out for treats after Maeve’s pediatrician appointments.

87. TheraTears eye drops.

88. Eating out as a family of three.

89. Escitalopram.

90. Getting going to feel good.

91. Cheering on Ryan in two cross country races this fall.

92. Going back to Dove antiperspirant after years of natural deodorants.

93. Watching the World Cup with my Ghanaian brother-in-law.

94. Taking an evening walk down Peacock Lane to see the Christmas lights and displays.

95. Maui with the whole Wilmes family. Cousin love in the mornings. Walks on the boardwalk. Fresh pineapple. Island humidity. Fish and grazing sea turtles and bright coral reefs. Playing in the surf at Baby Beach.

96. Not having a hot take.

97. Using my journal for cheerful retrospection.

98. Spotify notifying me that my top song of 2022 was José Gonzáles’ “Stay Alive.”

99. Embracing Dead Week.

100. Hearing the people I love laugh.

Categories
Miscellany

Repair as an act of self-care

photo by Riho Kitagawa on Unsplash

If I had to pick a word of the year for 2022, knowing what I do now about the past 12 months, it would be “embodiment.”

I have not lost myself in parenthood as I feared I might, and yet everything — even the way my brain functions — has changed. Through it all, one of the best practices I have done (and can do) for my physical and mental wellness is to trust the wisdom of my body.

This can look like:

As Bessel van der Kolk writes in The Body Keeps the Score, “Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”

My 36-year-old body, one that has been shaped and reshaped by life and childbearing and stress and personal growth, can better receive the benefits of movement and nourishment than it could at age 15 or 27.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what it would mean to apply this framework to my home and belongings. I often think about making decisions based on my values through a lens of environmentalism or anti-capitalism or social responsibility, for example, attempting to repair an appliance instead of immediately buying a new one. But what if, say, mending a hole in a sock could benefit my nervous system as well as the planet?

I’m reminded of the Japanese practice of kintsugi, in which cracks in a piece of pottery are repaired by being filled with powdered gold. The mending emphasizes the flaws rather than camouflaging them, adding beauty to the brokenness.

Artist Molly Martin says this about repair (in her case, mending clothing) as an act of care and a reflection on the self:

We carry the knocks of life on our bodies, like an old, much-loved and patched-up pair of trousers. Our wrinkles are a sign of time, of weather and of life. Old age is inescapable, but if we are honest about it, there can be grace and beauty in it. Surely, we can see that this must be so, and when we try to deny it by avoiding old things that are worn, rather than learning to love them, we somehow deny our own reality.

This is the sense of care and intentionality I am trying to live out as life continues to pick up speed and blurs the memories of simplicity imposed by lockdowns and social distancing.

(I keep chanting to myself a new spin on the 90s-era PSA: “Mend, heal, repair.”)

Categories
Art Family

Terrible, but not very terrible

I spend less time writing for myself these days and more time chasing a busy baby away from my books and the compost bin and the internet router. I know this stage in our lives is fleeting, though, so I’m doing my best to stay present to it and to remember these wise words:

“Babies eat books. But they spit out wads of them that can be taped back together; and they are only babies for a couple of years, while writers live for decades; and it is terrible, but not very terrible.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World
Categories
Reading

5 good books on motherhood I read this spring

Amidst a bleak landscape for American families these past few months, I have been widening my scope, thinking as little as possible about “parenting” and more about community, presence and care. Here are five books that are helping me feel hopeful, in the order I read them:

The Gardener and the Carpenter
Alison Gopnik

I love the thesis in this book for the liberation it provides both parents and children: “parenting” should not be a job, nor a verb. Gopnik, a child psychologist and researcher, argues that children simply need to be given a safe and stable base from which to explore the world and themselves. (Austin Kleon interprets this roughly as: Give them art supplies and let them go!) Her breakdown of the explore vs. exploit dichotomy gave me a lot to think about in what I model for my child and how I want her to orient herself toward what the world will have to offer her.

The School for Good Mothers
Jessamine Chan

Devastatingly good. (Even if it did hit a little too close to home for the parent of a three-month-old at the time I read it.) I loved the close writing on modern motherhood and all its entrapments, and the bigger thoughts on whose responsibility it is to raise children “well,” and what it means when race and gender and power come into play in the domestic sphere. A brilliant novel.

Nightbitch
Rachel Yoder

Hilarious, a little wild and loose, this novel imagines the madcap life of a stay-at-home mother who has put her art career on hold to care for her toddler… and who fears she may be turning into a dog. Satirical and voracious, this book pushes back on easy tropes and also begs for systemic change in this country. Vivid and funny.

Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from My Daughter’s School
Courtney Martin

Martin, an activist and writer whose work I’ve long loved, takes a good, hard look at her own fears, values and decisions about how to raise her daughters in a divided country as she and her husband navigate school choice. An incredibly original, inspiring account of trying to live out one’s values in a country that prioritizes the status quo.

Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change
Angela Garbes

This book is so necessary and such a pure joy: a treatise on the pleasure, power and possibility of treating mothering (a verb that can be done by anyone, of any gender) as the only essential work that humans do. An important perspective on what the pandemic has laid bare: we must (and can) demand more from family life in this country, but we don’t have to wait for a social safety net to start to make change in our lives and our communities.

Categories
Reading

My year in reading, 2021

My social life suffered in 2021, no thanks to the pandemic, but that just meant I had more time to dive into books.

Here are 15 books I read and loved this year, in no particular order:

Monogamy
Sue Miller

Whew, I adored this novel. Probably because Annie’s family is the kind I sometimes wish I were born into: slightly WASPy, East Coast-based, heavy on appreciation of the arts and culture and good food and wine. But Miller is a talented writer, with the ability to braid several characters’ stories into a quiet, seeking, honest novel. Reading this felt like the ideal immersive experience, something I’m often chasing after but rarely find.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Isabel Wilkerson

A stunning book, rich in research and beautiful writing. Caste gives important context and historical background to systemic racism as we understand it today. Wilkerson offers some truly shocking details from history (and the recent past) to build her compelling case that America has always known — has, in fact, been built on — a caste system.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength
Alison Bechdel

A delightful graphic memoir about Bechdel’s lifelong pursuit of self-improvement through exercise, from running to weightlifting to skiing and beyond. Bechdel levels up her third memoir with colored illustrations and a sprawling look at self-enlightenment, her own but also that of Beatnik poets and Eastern philosophers. Funny and searching.

Want
Lynn Steger Strong

I gobbled up this novel. I wanted to live inside Elizabeth’s world, even though it was depressing and sometimes claustrophobic.

Strong’s writing is gorgeous: “I want to tell her that I’m scared I’m too wore out, worn down, that this constant anxious ache that I have now isn’t about my job or kids or all the ways life isn’t what it should be, that maybe it’s just me, it’s most of who I am.”

And a bonus easter egg: Elizabeth is constantly reading as escapism, and her many novel references would give any hungry student of literature a reading list for the ages. 

Expecting Better
Emily Oster

I appreciated this book for its data-driven look at so many pregnancy-related decisions that often leave pregnant people feeling like they have no agency or like they’re being infantilized. I returned to it many times to help provide context to medical decisions and to reassure myself that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. (For more in this vein, Oster’s newsletter ParentData offers excellent evidence-based information on pregnancy, parenting, and COVID-19.)

Crying in H Mart
Michelle Zauner

This is a heartfelt, appetite-inducing memoir about love and loss, written by a fellow Oregonian. I knew of Michelle Zauner first through her music as Japanese Breakfast and grew to love her witty lyrics and dreamy indie pop. When I read her 2018 essay in The New Yorker, I knew I’d be snapping up her memoir once it came out. This book would be helpful to anyone dealing with grief or difficult parent-child relationships.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
Katherine May

Gorgeous. I loved how May made the universal wildly personal — as someone stuck mostly at home craving novel experiences, I fell hard for the stories that brought this book to life.

I can see myself returning to this book in future winters that I’ll experience.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Alexander Chee

Complex, sincere essays about writing and discovering one’s identity. This collection paints a portrait of how life can look when one is unafraid to dig into the bigger questions about what it means to be alive. Chee grapples with these questions as he explores different types of work, the intricacies of tarot, and the frustrations and joys of backyard gardening.

Leave the World Behind
Rumaan Alam

I love Alam’s writing voice, how he provides just enough detail and insight to have me feeling a familiar twinge of realization that in the end (if this is what the end looks like, which this past year has taught us that it may well be), neither race nor class nor wealth nor privilege nor youth will save us. Stellar writing on the trappings, comforts and distractions of the privileged life. 

Detransition, Baby
Torrey Peters

An incredibly compelling novel that taught me a lot about the queer and transgender experience, in all of its complexity and humor. The only thing I sometimes wanted was more plot — as much as I love a character study, these characters sometimes felt slippery and out of reach. That title, though? A masterpiece.

In the Dream House
Carmen Maria Machado

Wow. This memoir is flawless — engrossing, entirely original, compassionate, thorough, groundbreaking. I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll follow Machado’s writing wherever she wants to take me, even when (especially when?) it’s a little spooky and eerie and unsettling for reasons I can’t articulate as well as she can.

H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald

A braiding of grief memoir, nature writing, literary analysis and introspection. Helen Macdonald is funny, openhearted and willing to tell her story as true as she can. I loved her lyrical sentences so much, I didn’t care about the answers to all the nosy questions I’d normally have after reading such a book. I respect a memoir (and an author) that willingly shares the grief journey, no matter how messy and muddled it may get.

Priestdaddy
Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood has a beautiful, wild mind with a freewheeling brand of homeschooled genius. This memoir is so loving and weird and hilarious. Her writing is laugh-out-loud funny, which I needed last year more than I realized. I particularly loved Tricia’s relationship with her cautious, capital-M mom and the grace that Tricia extended toward her as a key figure in her life, in all her wackiness and concern.

Know My Name
Chanel Miller

This memoir feels like the future — a searing, courageous account of assault and its aftermath, told with care and deep self-love and uncontainable curiosity by an emerging author and artist. It is a story that we need to hear more often. (I also recommend Miller’s Instagram account, where she illustrates slices of life, bringing incredible humanity and thoughtfulness to seemingly mundane moments.)

Great Circle
Maggie Shipstead

I can’t pass up a Maggie Shipstead novel, and this one is her most ambitious yet. It delivers on its promise, hearkening back to the tradition of the epic novel in a time when so many works of fiction seem designed to scratch a very trendy itch of subverting form.

Great Circle tells the story of a woman determined to live a life true to her own desires, and to chart that course at all costs. Daring and deeply satisfying.

Here are ten bonus recommendations:

Open Book, Jessica Simpson
(Yes, really. Especially if like me, you’re reexamining the reductive narratives we sold ourselves about young pop stars in the early aughts.)
The Overstory, Richard Powers
No One Is Talking about This, Patricia Lockwood
Yolk, Mary H. K. Choi
Luster, Raven Leilani
100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, Sarah Ruhl
Planetfall, Emma Newman
Smile: The Story of a Face, Sarah Ruhl
Arbitrary Stupid Goal, Tamara Shopsin
A Promised Land, Barack Obama

Categories
Miscellany

100 things that made my year in 2021

1. Hanging three birdfeeders and becoming a full-blown bird watcher. Picking up field guides at the local library branch. Smiling at Anna’s hummingbirds at the feeder, squirrels trying to get to the suet block and dark-eyed juncos hopping around the front yard.

2. Sam Anderson’s writing in The New York Times Magazine, whether he’s introducing me to Kevin Durant’s career or the last two northern white rhinos on the planet.

3. Cheering on everyone’s efforts to have and share simple (or complex) hobbies.

4. Attempting to capture backyard birds and the full moon through the camera scope on my new binoculars.

5. Enduring another year of the coronavirus pandemic, looking back on the one we’d already lived through, and turning to art and small kindnesses to keep going.

6. The launch of a trained behavioral health crisis response team bringing a bit of hope to our struggling city.

7. Strong women telling their own stories. Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk. Know My Name by Chanel Miller. Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart.

8. Attempting cross-country skiing with only a handful of spills on a sunny, warm winter day on Mt. Hood. Drinking Barq’s and eating Burgerville takeout in the car on the way home.

9. Taking a virtual drawing workshop with the delightful, wildly creative Linda Barry.

10. Telling our families on Mother’s Day that we were expecting our first child.

11. Clinging to the gentle release of a short afternoon walk around the neighborhood.

12. Spending a lot of time unlearning work culture and thinking about my misguided millennial ambition. Caring less than ever about productivity and more about the small rhythms of my days.

13. Going downtown with Erika to see the cherry blossoms on the waterfront, and to see other people enjoying them, too. Eating green tea Kit-Kats under our masks.

14. Receiving my first COVID vaccine from my sister Aubrey in April.

15. Hunkering down in a cozy rental apartment in Bandon for Ryan’s 36th birthday. Looking out at the fog and taking long beach walks. Tidepooling among the rocks. Eating charcuterie and Dungeness crab with our hands. Watching School of Rock on DVD. Reading while listening to the ocean.

16. Falling for the allure of the Harry and Meghan interview with Oprah — and then watching The Crown in one glorious, cinematic blur.

17. Fleet Foxes’ SHORE, first on Spotify and then selections in this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert and this gorgeous recording.

18. Trying to prevent the internet and its various algorithms from learning of my pregnancy by googling things in incognito mode.

19. Reviving three jade plants that had root rot and replanting them in one big pot, where they are finally thriving again.

20. Turning to Emily Oster for data-informed answers on topics as wide-ranging as risk assessment with a newborn, foods to avoid during pregnancy and travel during COVID-19.

21. Attempting screen-free Saturdays whenever possible, as inspired by Katie Hawkins-Gaar.

22. Joining Rachel Syme’s Penpalooza exchange and writing to a pen pal who lives in England.

23. Baking chocolate chip cookies and Earl Grey tea cake.

24. Eating Taco Time when inclement weather struck (February’s record ice storm; the heat dome in June) and dubbing it “natural disaster takeout.”

25. Laughing out loud while reading Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy and No One Is Talking About This.

26. Babysitting my nephew and niece on a handful of summer and fall mornings. Reading books together. Getting outside. Being silly.

27. Taking books and magazines to the Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood. Finding a copy of Great Circle in a Little Free Library while walking on Fairmount Boulevard. Driving to the Capitol Hill library branch to pick up my holds.

28. Finally seeing a dermatologist to get my moles checked.

29. Piling into my parents’ motorhome for a spring day trip to Mt. St. Helens and tailgating in an empty, icy parking lot. Attempting to hike in the snow. Looking out and seeing nothing but fog.

30. Taking a leap of faith and leaving my job at the end of June to explore self-employment.

31. Pork rinds.

32. Finding a near-perfect reading experience in Sue Miller’s Monogamy.

33. Flowering trees.

34. Watching TV almost every night. Only Murders in the Building. Maid. Reservation Dogs. Mare of Easttown. The White Lotus. Hacks. Sex Education.

35. Hanging out in my parents’ pool on hot summer days. And the community pool in my in-laws’ neighborhood when we visited Kansas City in the middle of a humid July.

36. Finding endless motivation and positive reinforcement on The Writers’ Co-op, a business podcast for freelance writers.

37. Staying informed about the pandemic and slightly more grounded in a time of misinformation and hysteria, thanks to Ed Yong and Zeynep Tufekci.

38. Griping about my neighbors’ use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

39. Laughing so hard at the pitch-perfect Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.

40. Ignoring all food-focused media during the first trimester of my pregnancy, as well as most cooking. Avoiding mundane foods that suddenly grossed me out, including oatmeal, fried eggs and mushrooms.

41. Getting out of the house on Friday afternoons and starting the weekend with a local hike.

42. Feeling screensick for much of the year and yet still doomscrolling.

43. Ultrasound appointments.

44. Applauding Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka for changing how America thinks about athletic strength, well-being and health.

45. Getting out of the house and realizing how uncool we are at the Portland Flea Market. Buying ceramics and popsicles. Sweating through a PNW summer day.

46. Long conversations with friends at Maplewood Coffee and Tea.

47. Ryan teaching our nephew how to build his confidence while riding a bike. Kai pedaling toward us and announcing, “Comin’ in hot!” Biking the perimeter of Black Butte Ranch with my cousins. Finally getting a new Trek bike and building it during a Zoom session with Luke’s help. Riding behind Ryan on a long run around downtown Portland.

48. Summer smoothies.

49. Buying donuts while running errands.

50. Celebrating Aubrey’s 30th birthday with a long weekend in a weird vacation house in Depoe Bay. Getting silly with an elaborate treasure hunt and late-night dance parties. Watching bald eagles and ocean waves from the living room windows.

51. Liana Finck’s cartoons about motherhood. Edith Zimmerman’s slice-of-life comics depicting her new baby. Evie Ebert providing a bit about pregnancy that I would use over and over during my second trimester. Lydia Kiesling on pandemic parenting. Erin Gloria Ryan’s hilarious newsletter.

52. Hosting friends and family for dinner again. Pizza on the back patio. Big pots of soup. Giving tours of the house even though we’ve lived in it for over a year. Playing catch with our nephews in the front yard.

53. A garage baby shower, complete with forest-themed cookies and golden balloons and lots of happy mini-reunions. Getting the best advice from my teen and tween cousins.

54. Scoring Mary Carroll mugs during a rare local sale.

55. Finding pleasure and meaning in TV specials that spanned genres. Derek Delgaudio’s In and Of Itself. Bo Burnham’s Inside. Mike Birbiglia in The New One dropping the articles from his speech in a bit about how people refer to unborn children. Amy Schumer in Expecting Amy, which led us to rewatch her special Growing.

56. Sitting in the shade eating fries and drinking cocktails at Ça Va. Oysters on the patio at Flying Fish Company. Pizza under the space heaters at San Juan Island Brewing Co.

57. Drinking cider and eating soup at Topaz Farm on Halloween weekend. Crowding around the bonfire and watching an employee light another fire with a giant blowtorch. Listening to screams coming from the haunted corn maze.

58. Taking my nephew to the zoo on a chilly fall morning. Saying hello to the cheetahs and orangutans and penguins and otters and African wild dogs from the other side of the glass. Watching Preston watch the elephants play in the dust.

59. Making stuffing biscuits in late November. Eating them all in a week.

60. Hiking more than ever, even into the third trimester of my pregnancy. Exploring the Tillamook State Forest and Silver Falls State Park and revisiting some favorite trails on the coast. Staying stable with the help of trekking poles. Wearing tall socks and plenty of sunscreen.

61. Thinking more critically (and maybe slightly less judgmentally) about mothers who feel compelled to influence thanks to Kathryn Jezer-Morton’s excellent new Substack.

62. Joining an advisory council for Gonzaga Magazine.

63. Falling prey to the Twitter algorithm while thinking about rewilding my attention.

64. Drinking Italian sodas in the car on a day trip to Hood River for pears and apples. Meeting Carlos the steer and picking a bouquet of dahlias at Mt. View Orchards.

65. Watching Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy and then eating more pasta than ever. A festive late summer meal with an old friend at Montelupo Italian Market.

66. Celebrating my pal Shannon as he published his first book.

67. Reuniting with my best girlfriends for a long weekend in Seattle. Good pastries. A long walk around Green Lake. Talking about kids and childbirth. Laughing in the hot tub.

68. Sleeping in.

69. Listening to 101.9 KINK in the car.

70. Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR. Attempting to learn “driver’s license” on the ukulele. Feeling joy wash over me while watching her Tiny Desk Concert performed in a DMV.

71. Watching the Japanese maple in the front yard lose its leaves in a fiery burst of late fall color. Pretending that it was in a competition with the neighbor’s tree as they changed shades. Looking out the living room window at the sword ferns that sprout from the neighbor’s sugar maple.

72. Frozen pizzas.

73. Subscribing to a clothing rental service that made my last months of pregnancy feel a little less frumpy.

74. Walking through Multnomah Village with Ryan to get the hell out of the house on the weekend. Eating bagels and drinking coffee on the sidewalk. Doing some early holiday shopping and admiring other people’s handiwork.

75. Making daily blind contour drawings during the month of October, as inspired by Wendy MacNaughton.

76. Summer visits to the International Rose Test Garden.

77. Watching Jagged and becoming an immediate, late-blooming Alanis Morrissette fan. Blaring Jagged Little Pill on a long drive. Listening to Ryan reliving college memories and singing in a passionate falsetto.

78. English breakfast tea.

79. Ada Limón on learning different ways to be quiet. Putting some of those to practice in my own life.

80. Spending a long weekend connecting with friends and exploring the San Juan Islands on our second anniversary. Riding the ferry and looking for sea life. Sailing alongside a pod of orcas on a windy, rainy afternoon. Eating meals on chilly patios and splitting a pint of local ice cream on the couch. Watching half of Pretty Woman on cable TV. Finding it nearly impossible to get out of a foam-topped bed while seven months pregnant.

81. Playing Sushi-Go with my sisters.

82. So many good documentaries. The Mole Agent. Rebel Hearts. Dick Johnson is Dead. The Donut King. LFG.

83. Remembering Eric Carle and Beverly Cleary and Eve Babitz and bell hooks and Gary Paulsen and Joan Didion — and the worlds they built and ideas they explored.

84. Making the living room a little bit cozier with an electric fireplace.

85. Attending a Creative Mornings session with Portland cartoon journalist Sarah Mirk and making a zine that inspired me for weeks.

86. Peperoncini chicken.

87. Experiencing the “discomforts” of pregnancy. Achy feet. Compressed nerves along my ribs that made my torso tingle. Acid reflux. Swollen fingers. Always, always feeling like I had to go to the bathroom.

88. Ordering takeout on Wednesday nights when we had birthing preparation classes via Zoom. “Rehearsing” contractions by plunging my hands into a bowl of ice water while Ryan counted aloud. Watching birthing videos that were stranger and more ritualistic than I had imagined possible.

89. Watching Tua, the neighbor cat, explore his new catio. The time that Ryan attempted to rescue him from the busy road while he was on a run. Hoping to see glimpses of Tua in the living room window. The arrival of a new kitten, Kona.

90. Using terms like “plant-forward” and “lentil-centric” while working on a big copywriting contract for one of my first clients. Getting excited about diving deep into a new topic. Hearing my stomach growl on long afternoons spent writing about food.

91. Celebrating Mom’s birthday at Topgolf and swinging a golf club at 38 weeks pregnant.

92. Finding inspiration and an answer to my search for anti-racist action in Hope Credit Union. Planning to open a money market account with them in 2022.

93. Asking Ryan to tie my shoes when we left the house for a walk.

94. Lots of takeout and delivery. Rediscovering Little Big Burger. Bamboo Sushi. Hat Yai’s fried chicken for two. Soup dumplings.

95. Buying myself half of a pumpkin pie the weekend after Thanksgiving.

96. Jason Isbell on country music, nostalgia and white victimhood.

97. Being so tired that I misspelled my own name on our Christmas cards.

98. A very good pair of slippers.

99. Body pillows.

100. Giving birth to our daughter Maeve Lillian on the evening of my 35th birthday.

You can read all of my lists for past years here.

Categories
Reading

My year in reading, 2020

It was a slog to read at times in 2020, so I escaped into other worlds through novels and reread a small handful of favorites, too.

Here are 15 books I read and loved this year, in no particular order:

Long Bright River
Liz Moore

This is Moore’s latest novel, and while entirely different in tone and topic than Heft, it’s just as beautiful. At first glance, Long Bright River is a straight, no-nonsense crime novel, but Moore brings to it her literary approach, and her deep sense of compassion. Her characters, who are enmeshed in Philadelphia’s opioid crisis, made me call my own family members just to hear their voices.

Heft
Liz Moore

I discovered Liz Moore through her short story “Clinical Notes” in The New York Times Magazine‘s Decameron Project issue, and I loved her writing voice and the gentle humanity in it. She reminded me of another favorite author, Brian Doyle. Heft has that same gentleness, with sympathetic characters that leapt off the page and into my heart even after I finished the novel.

The Idea of You
Robinne Lee

I needed this romance novel as an escape portal this year. The Idea of You is a pure joyride, a smutty, unapologetic love story between an almost-40-year-old divorcée and the 20-year-old lead singer of a boy band. I enjoyed this story so much because of its specificity and its pitch-perfect art, travel and fashion references. I couldn’t stop reading.

Nothing to See Here
Kevin Wilson

Such a delight!

This wacky novel about an unmoored young woman in charge of young twins who spontaneously combust when they’re upset is strange and sweet and perfect for a quick escape in a “what do I do with this summer Saturday afternoon?” kind of way.

Uncanny Valley
Anna Wiener

I am already the ideal reader for this book, suspicious as I am of Big Tech and the effect its products have on our lives, yet also thoroughly dependent on it. This memoir is a fever dream of shrewd insight into Silicon Valley and the people who shaped it and were shaped by it. I both laughed out loud while reading this and wanted to hurl it at the wall with anger (over how good Wiener is on venture capitalists in all their self-absorbed smugness.) What a timely, satisfying debut.

Olive Kitteridge
Elizabeth Strout

As the internet likes to say, BIG MOOD.

I love quiet stories like these — evocative, expansive and yet uncomfortably intimate. Gorgeous writing. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to discover Elizabeth Strout.

Eve’s Hollywood
Eve Babitz

Babitz’s Slow Days, Fast Company still takes first place for me, but Eve’s Hollywood was still sublime. It felt especially delicious to read about a sunny, druggy, bright LA while mostly confined to my apartment. Eve Babitz is always a jubilant, seductive ray of sunshine.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
Gretchen McCulloch

I’m nominating Gretchen McCulloch as the internet’s librarian. Because Internet would have been satisfying as an in-depth look at internet culture and how it has shaped and molded language, but McCulloch reaches a step further and maps linguistic differences onto different internet cohorts and life experiences, giving the reader a chance to broaden her view and have more empathy toward, for example, older bosses, younger cousins and less-extremely-online college classmates.

Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book
Courtney Maum

An essential reference book for anyone new to or curious about the publishing world, even if the journey leans more toward voyeurism than actually taking the steps firsthand. This book is funny, informative and packed with useful advice from dozens of literary writers.

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation
Anne Helen Petersen

I am such an AHP fangirl, and this book solidified my love. Maybe most important in this book is how Petersen calls out approaches to burnout that place the blame on the individual (usually the mother/wife/underpaid woman). We need systemic change in the United States, and Petersen is a vital voice shaping the call for a better, saner, more secure country.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Ottessa Moshfegh

A delicious, perfect little novel. This was exactly what I wanted to read in the week leading up to the 2020 presidential election (if I couldn’t just take an Infermiterol on Tuesday, Nov 3, that is). I love Moshfegh’s dark humor.

The Fixed Stars
Molly Wizenberg

I love Wizenberg’s writing — always have, always will. Her voice is quiet and intimate and unravels ordinary moments in life in a patient, steady way. This book appealed to me for its frank exploration of sexuality and fluidity in mid-life, although I think it would have been a better book if she’d waited another handful of years to write it.

Her Body and Other Parties
Carmen Maria Machado

These stories are brilliant, creepy, sensual and haunting. (A good October read.) I read “The Husband Stitch” on a weekend away for my first anniversary and “Inventory” during, well, a pandemic — the stories were hitting uncannily close to home for a while, but they also lent a sense of wonder and curiosity to the seemingly ordinary.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

This sweet book highlights the relationships that rarely get formal recognition in our lives but are often the true bedrock of our identity: friendships. Sow and Friedman excel at telling their story with honesty, wisdom and heart while making the reader want to hold her own friends a little closer. An important manifesto for modern society.

Educated
Tara Westover

This tale of escape and triumph over adversity is a bestseller for obvious reasons — I simply couldn’t stop turning the pages. I’m a sucker for a story about the power of knowledge, and Westover delivers.

Here are five other books I’d recommend:

That Kind of Mother, Rumaan Alam
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, Brian Doyle
Weather, Jenny Offill
The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory

And three worthwhile re-reads:

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
Hyberbole and A Half, Allie Brosh
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

Categories
Miscellany

100 things that made my year in 2020

1. Refining our homemade pizza dough approach. Making it a near-weekly staple by the middle of the year.

2. Writing a pair of pieces for EarthBeat about millennial Catholics (including me) who are grappling with childbearing and climate change. Upping the cool factor by working with a talented, passionate illustrator on this project.

3. Dragging Ryan to a matinee showing of Little Women. Convincing myself that I’m a Jo while knowing that I’m probably just a Beth.

4. Falling hard for CHEER on Netflix and then going to an aerial yoga class in an attempt to recapture some of the slight acrobatic abilities of my youth.

5. A decadent, slow, lovely Restaurant Week meal out at Extra Virgin (made all the sweeter in my memory by the fact of the months that followed).

6. Gerard Mas’ medieval-girl-with-a-modern-twist sculptures.

7. Listening to podcasts in the bath.

8. Bringing home Utz chips and kettle corn seasoned with Old Bay after traveling to Baltimore for a conference. Taking a long evening walk through the city. Sharing a very French meal with colleagues at (now-closed) Chez Hugo and daydreaming about future travel.

9. Marveling at Ryan’s joy and the rest of the city’s on Super Bowl Sunday when the Chiefs brought home the championship. Getting sprayed with prosecco in the street in Westport. Crowding onto the sidewalks with thousands of other Kansas Citians in chilly February for the homecoming parade.

10. Becoming a runner. Getting outside three days a week since February to move for 2-6 miles, sometimes surprising myself, sometimes working through tough feelings, sometimes counting every step until I get home again. Running a solo 5K down a two-lane road in suburban Kansas City, and then another one on a curvy SW Portland boulevard on a very foggy Thanksgiving morning.

11. So much television. Pen15. I May Destroy You. Schitt’s Creek. Sex Education. The OA. Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi. Our Planet. Ramy. The Baby-Sitters Club.

12. Scheming to buy Ryan a copy of I Am Easy to Find on vinyl for Valentine’s Day — and receiving the exact same gift from him.

13. Roxane Gay on the big step and simple pleasures of moving in with her fiancé.

14. Eating Vietnamese and Italian food with colleagues in Anaheim. Working poolside on a beautiful evening. Taking long walks to the convention center in the mild winter weather. Listening to travel stories told by my 75-year-old colleague, a Catholic sister who has been to more than 30 countries.

15. Celebrating my cousin’s wedding on Leap Day. Ryan tearing it up on the dance floor and doing a front handspring during a Rihanna song. Flying for the last time in 2020 just as we began to hear about coronavirus cases in the U.S.

16. Martha Stewart’s easy basic pancakes.

17. Seasons 1 and 2 of The Dream podcast. Do the Thing with Melissa Urban. Esther Perel’s How’s Work. Rabbit Hole. OPB’s Timber Wars.

18. Exploring the Rock Island Trail by bike — and quickly learning it was uphill, all the way, and my tires were leaky. Digging deep for motivation to keep going.

19. Creating a quarantine zine.

20. Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Lianne La Havas. Mordechai by Khruangbin. Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore on endless repeat.

21. Riding, for too brief a time, a wave of cresting hope as I rooted in the primaries for Elizabeth Warren and her intelligence, kindness and extreme competence. Warren and Kate McKinnon flipping the script.

22. Pantry meals. Dried beans. Yes, homemade bread, a bit behind the curve. Baked risotto.

23. Making ugly collages and silly doodles in my journal. Participating in one of Wendy MacNaughton’s Draw Together sessions and hanging our artwork on the bookshelf.

24. Learning to cut Ryan’s hair at home. Receiving a hair clipper kit from Ryan’s parents as a going-away gift. Persuading him to trim my hair during a 10-month break from the salon.

25. Feeling soaring highs and gloomy, disengaged lows through a promotion that didn’t pan out.

26. Zoom chats with my college girlfriends, with my writing group, with my cousins, with my therapist, with a volunteer committee. Zoom fatigue at work. Learning to “hide self view.”

27. Gaming the hell out of the Go365 program through our Humana health insurance in the quest for a free bicycle.

28. Movies. Palm Springs. Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Portrait of A Lady on Fire.

29. Praising the heavens for takeout containers of premixed Negroni at Il Lazzarone.

30. Adjusting slowly to the work-from-home life. Propping my laptop up on thick books. Learning to get up from my desk often. Sharing lunch with Ryan instead of my colleagues. Being OK with not wearing makeup to every Zoom meeting. Starting my work day at 7:00 am. Finding freedom in restriction.

31. Watching livestreamed Mass for a few weeks during Lent. Celebrating Easter, and then ignoring the digital option entirely for months.

32. Writing a song on the ukulele with Ryan in the early still-creative stretches of sheltering at home. Playing that song on Zoom with a couple dozen extended family members singing along.

33. Learning coping mechanisms from the smartest people around: kids.

34. Buying a Nespresso machine and letting it bring us some small joy every weekend.

35. Reflecting on how in lockdown, it all changes and it all stays the same.

36. Supporting my yoga teacher on Patreon instead of in the studio. Buying a strap and a second cork block for my home practice.

37. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener. Heft and Long Bright River by Liz Moore. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. Robinne Lee’s The Idea of You.

38. Feeling very fortunate as we made generous donations to local nonprofits with a chunk of our stimulus checks.

39. Accepting gifts of homemade masks from an upstairs neighbor and in the mail from my mom.

40. Participating in a gratitude photo exchange with my sisters during the first weeks of lockdown.

41. Keeping a StrikeThru journal to organize and clarify my work and home life.

42. Taking a Sunday drive to Clinton, Missouri, and getting startled by an Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racer snake while on a walk at the nature preserve.

43. Ordering takeout to celebrate birthdays and the end of another mundane week and in a tiny, futile attempt to “save the restaurants.”

44. Going on a virtual trip to Nashville to visit my sister instead of flying out for Memorial Day weekend like we’d planned. Shopping online at Nashville stores, listening to live music on Zoom and taking photos in front of “local” murals.

45. Crying about work stress and moving stress and the pandemic and Ryan’s unemployment and a gloomy Saturday and life not happening on my terms. So. Many. Tears.

46. Participating in Brian Benson’s Daily Write class on Zoom in April and May. Having a piece published in the resulting anthology, Proof That I Exist.

47. Saying goodbye for now to my dear friends and colleagues in Kansas City in a 2020-appropriate meetup.

48. Mailing a birthday card for Breonna Taylor to the Kentucky attorney general. Reading and talking and learning about systemic racism in this country during the summer’s wave of social unrest. Feeling helpless and hopeless and desperate for change.

49. Surviving several weeks of a bedbug infestation in our home. Commuting to and from my in-laws’ so we could get some sleep. Buying a new mattress.

50. Saying goodbye to Ryan’s Corolla and becoming a one-car family.

51. Dan Sinker’s son’s research project leading to an endless string of Bird Weeks.

52. Moving cross-country in the middle of a pandemic (after stressing about that move for endless months). Eating Taco Bell on the tailgate of our Budget moving truck. Almost running out of gas outside of Laramie, Wyoming. Wiping down every possible surface of our hotel rooms in Grand Platte, Nebraska, and Meridian, Idaho.

53. Watching movies simultaneously with friends and live-texting our reactions. Choosing yet another weekend film thanks to the inspiration (and Twitter threads) of Vulture’s Friday Night Movie Club.

54. Supporting Ryan through a rocky, prolonged spring of uncertainty at work and eventually, a few months of unemployment.  

55. Facetiming and Zooming and participating in car parades to celebrate holidays with extended family and grandparents. Masking up for distanced outdoor greetings. Waiting as long as possible to go to the grocery store.

56. A charming, simple look at the socially distanced life through the lens of a mom of teenagers.

57. The NYT Cooking app. Cheesy, spicy black bean bake. Dutch babies. Japanese-style tuna noodle salad. Somen noodles with mushroom broth. Korean barbecue-style meatballs. Mississippi roast.

58. Too much screen time.

59. Foraging blackberries from the end of the street.

60. Oliver Burkeman on the only life question we really need to ask ourselves: “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?”

61. Voting.

62. Escaping into a different reality through documentaries. Honeyland. Crip Camp. The Dawn Wall. Free Solo. This Mountain Life. My Octopus Teacher.

63. Saying hello again to a more bruised, angry, striving version of one of my favorite cities.

64. Eating (almost) every flavor of Kettle Chips in a summer obsession. Crowning Korean Barbeque as one of my favorites.

65. Settling into our rental house in southwest Portland. Hanging artwork on the plaster walls, after a few small emotional outbursts. Trying to revive our sunburnt houseplants. Purchasing real furniture.

66. The Oregon Zoo’s Twitter feed reminding us of our fuzzy neighbors while it’s closed to visitors. Uni! Juno!

67. Exploring our local parks and trails. Feeling more than a little awestruck when first stumbling across the old-growth forest in Marshall Park. Running in Tryon Creek State Park. Getting very familiar with the Springwater Corridor.

68. Nicknaming the neighborhood cats (Simon, Lindor, Mitt and Taffy), who mostly ignore us.

69. Hunkering down at my grandparents’ beach house for an incredibly restorative, restful, beautiful, slow anniversary stay on the Oregon coast. Building fires in the circular fireplace. Reading entire books. Hiking on muddy trails. Identifying jellyfish and crabs and anemones on the shore and in tidepools.

70. Passing the knowledge test to become licensed in Oregon again and celebrating that (and my legal name change) with a beer and several tears. (Still waiting on that Oregon license plate, though!)

71. Drawing so much hope and inspiration from the launch of The 19th* and its first year of coverage.

72. Playing and singing and generally just goofing around with my toddler nephew Preston.

73. Afternoon walks around the neighborhood with Ryan.

74. Learning to use our new Traeger grill. Happily reuniting with the abundance of Oregon produce in the summer. Filling our freezer with salmon fillets.

75. Missing book readings until I decided to find them on Zoom. Listening to Molly Wizenberg talk about her latest, The Fixed Stars. Delighting in BFFs Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow chatting on my screen. Looking forward to reading Yaa Gyasi’s sophomore novel, Transcendent Kingdom.

76. Trying to take a mental vacation when we couldn’t really go anywhere.

77. Remembering what’s really important with Ada Limon’s poem The Conditional.

78. Scratching my travel itch just slightly by exploring the aisles at Barbur World Foods.

79. Hunkering down during a long, scary 10-day stretch as Portland had its first true wildfire season. Staying indoors and refreshing air quality index readings hourly. Worrying about family friends and their homes. Having dance parties in an attempt at exercise and ease. Trying not to overthink headaches and scratchy throats.

80. Finding a perfect bit of peace in a rainy fall visit to the Portland Japanese Garden.

81. Looking at the full moon through my binoculars.

82. Trying to ground ourselves in the seasons. Eating a lot of squash and making homemade pumpkin spice lattes and watching silly Halloween-adjacent movies like Addams Family Values and The Blob.

83. Getting outside to work off some nervous energy the weekend before Election Day and taking a 20-mile bike ride on the beautiful Banks-Vernonia State Trail.

84. A.O. Scott on Wallace Stegner and the conflicted soul of the west.

85. A new job for Ryan at On running.

86. Worrying as family members and friends and colleagues contracted COVID-19. Trying to balance my sanity with my safety. Using hand sanitizer that smells like a college basement. Staying home.

87. Reading the archives of Orangette while Ryan watches Chiefs games.

88. Having a two-week dalliance with cold showers and loving the jolt of morning energy.

89. Finally getting our hands on a kettlebell and a set of resistance bands. Setting up a little workout area in the basement.

90. Lurking on TikTok and learning that even Catholic sisters are using the app to connect with Generation Z.

91. Sharing some of my favorite books in the #perfect31 challenge.

92. The radical quilts of Rosie Lee Thompkins.

93. Toasting to better things to come with Haus aperitifs.

97. Enjoying a gentler waking experience with a sunrise alarm clock.

98. Hand-painted signs at the coast that reminded us to go slow. “Slow down. Seal crossing.” “Slow is the new fast.” “Yo, dude. Slow down.”

94. New sweatpants. Crewneck sweatshirts.

95. Getting slightly lost on a 10-mile hike on the Oregon coast but finding worthwhile views and good company.

96. Watching grackles fight in the front yard and Steller’s jays hopping around the spruce tree.

99. Telehealth appointments.

100. Two of my sisters receiving their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine. A few extra minutes of light at the end of each day.

Read my lists for past years here.

Categories
Reading

My year in reading, 2019

Here are 10 books I read and loved this year, in the order I read them:

Becoming
Michelle Obama

Yes, this is the story of a First Lady, but it’s also the memoir of a modern mother and career woman. I was moved and motivated by Michelle’s reflections on her career in the nonprofit sector and her growing family. She tells a beautiful story of how she strived for both with grace and determination.

Kitchen Confidential
Anthony Bourdain

The kitchen is a tough place to work and live, and Bourdain doesn’t shy away from the dark side. Knowing that he decided his own fate, in the end, made the darkness in these pages feel more bleak. The book ultimately is about love, though, about a undying commitment to food and the people who make it, to bringing people together despite the abusive veneer of the harsh language that unites them. His voice is singular and I miss it.

Slow Days, Fast Company
Eve Babitz

I love Babitz’s funny, droll, evocative voice. After my first-ever trip to Los Angeles, I wanted to know more about the city — to really get to know the city — and several readers I trust pointed me to her work. She does not disappoint. 

The Golden State
Lydia Kiesling

This voice of this novel is beautiful: tense and distracted, bored and self-conscious, in love and hopeless. I’m recommending it to all of my friends who are parenting toddlers. I loved Kiesling’s expansive, searching internal monologue.

How to Do Nothing
Jenny Odell

This book feels groundbreaking and yet timeless. Deeply helpful in a world that’s constantly vying for my very divided attention and limited energy. This is the kind of practical philosophy I am here for.

Horizon
Barry Lopez

This book is stunning in scope. Lopez is an author whose gentle perspective and lifelong studiousness I have long admired, and this is his opus. His research and wisdom on elders and self-sustaining communities should be required reading for every urbanist and every politician.

Once More We Saw Stars
Jayson Greene

This memoir stunned me. Greene writes with self-love and searing honesty as he works through heartbreak and deep grief. His story helped me to better understand what it’s like to lose a child, as those close to me have. I feel very fortunate that Greene so generously shared his story.

The Book of Delights
Ross Gay

For several months, Ryan and I ended the day by reading aloud a brief essay from this delightful little volume. Gay’s reflections on big and small delights in ordinary life helped us appreciate the ups and downs of our days.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Lori Gottlieb

Written by a therapist about her experiences with therapy patients and as a patient herself, this book is a generous, open-eyed look at the human condition in all of our striving and struggle and confusion and love. I loved Gottlieb’s sense of humor, her humility and her ability to embrace both the light and dark in life.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity
Timothy Egan

Equal parts travelogue and spiritual memoir, with huge dashes of history sprinkled generously throughout. Egan’s voice feels as trustworthy as any, and I loved the way he wrote with perspective on his relationships with his wife, his children and the faith tradition that he lost but can’t quite shake.

Here are ten other books I read and liked:

Keep Going, Austin Kleon
The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang
Like A Mother, Angela Garbes
Tropic of Squalor, Mary Karr
Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino
Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
In Pieces, Sally Field
A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Good Talk, Mira Jacob
Little Panic, Amanda Stern