I normally get really carried away with my New Year’s Goals — most years I have upwards of a dozen of them, and I make a point of making each one Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant and Time-based (SMART). My lists often span a few journal pages and get pretty complicated. I think it’s a remnant of my overachieving days in tech.
This year I keep reading advice about taking it easy on yourself with goals given the pandemic. The New York Times has suggested making tinier resolutions or even down-sizing them. Given this, a simple approach like illustrator Julia Rothman’s More/Less list is pretty attractive. She has a drawing exercise for this in yesterday’s NY Times, but I prefer to stick to her earlier written word format, the one she shared on Instagram back in 2017.
So, here it is. My 2021 goals, super simplified: MORE doing stuff that’s good for me, LESS ingesting of things that aren’t. More reading, more writing, more making, swimming and exploring. More walking and biking. Less alcohol and less junk food. Easy-peasy. Now let’s get those vaccinations done so we can do some of these things together!
Yesterday afternoon my family and I took a drive around Sussex County, NJ, where we live. Lots of scenery—bare trees covering low and high mountains, farms with horses eating hay and drinking from a pond, a half-frozen reservoir where we stopped for a bit to stretch our legs at the edge of the mildly choppy water. And in the middle of nowhere, some construction company or other with a signboard out front that read:
The first rule of 2021 Don’t talk about 2020
Which made me laugh quite a lot. I love Fight Club, and I love random sayings on business signboards. And I even kind of love “2020 was so awful” jokes. Because it was awful in many ways, almost comically so at times. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any shittier, a new low reared its ugly head. Nothing was too rock bottom for 2020. You gotta at least admire its commitment to sucking so bad.
Of course, there has been the pandemic, and that’s no joke; in my house, it’s a constant source of anxiety and fear and sadness. We don’t go out much, and we rarely let anyone into our home, and it’s been that way since March 2020, when my job sent me to work at home for three weeks that has turned into eight months and counting. My nine-year-old son (well, he’ll be ten in a few days) hasn’t seen another child in person in that long either, except from afar on occasion as we take our walks around the neighborhood. We are essentially hermits. In my mind, it beats the alternative.
But to be honest, being at home so much has been pretty good for me. Despite all the misery in the world, I have managed to carve out a little bright spot for myself—which I feel bad saying, because how dare I feel good when so many others are suffering? I still watch CNN and doom scroll Twitter and take in all the stress-inducing news of the world; I’m not oblivious to what’s happening. And I definitely feel the horror and futility of what’s going on outside while I’m holed up in my cozy little house. Still. In 2020, I managed to feel a glimmer of something I hadn’t felt for a long, long time: happiness.
If you know me, you know my mental health is not always stable. There are bad times and times that are better, but in recent years it’s been mostly difficult. My mindset has become so negative; I expect everything to go wrong and worry endlessly about everything going wrong and spiral downward when something does go wrong (though what I anticipate—everything going wrong—never actually happens). And in the last year, somehow, I have managed to escape this vicious cycle. I have felt contentment; I have felt true joy. Mostly in the mundane moments of life: walking around the rooms of my house, which we moved into only a year and a half ago. Watching what we call “sad shows” (our favorites are Hoarders and My 600-lb. Life) on TV every night after dinner with my husband and son. Looking out the kitchen window while making coffee, hoping to see some of our resident deer family meandering through the woods. Maybe it is because of the state of the world these days, but I’ve found myself feeling so grateful for ordinary things. I don’t want to take any of it for granted.
A large part of this happiness, I know, has come from working at home. I am an anxious introvert, so not being in a crowded office with an open floor plan for 45+ hours per week has been a nice change. Some people complain about video calls and chat apps, but I could (and do) happily run my team of six copyeditors completely virtually. And I could do it indefinitely. I also don’t miss the hour-plus commute to the office. Morning traffic on Route 80 is as close to literal Hell as I ever hope to get. I’m saving miles on my car and the cost of gas; I can sleep an hour and a half later in the morning than when I was commuting. I get more time with my family. Even my job gets more out of me—I often spend the time I’d otherwise be driving home on my laptop. It’s really a win all around. And it’s taken a lot of constant, heavy weight off of my shoulders. Is it any wonder I’m feeling metaphorically lighter?
But as Vicky asked me during one of the college-roommate Zoom calls she mentioned in her top 100 list, what am I doing with all this good mood? Well, unfortunately, a whole lot of nothing. I’ve come to appreciate laziness in a way I never have before. Sitting around and doing nothing has always made me feel incredibly anxious—I always had to be doing something, usually working. If I wasn’t producing something in some way, I considered my time wasted. Now, I am quite content to watch TV and nap on the sofa every Saturday afternoon. In a way it’s good—I am really learning how to relax. In a way not, because I am getting nothing done. Nothing creative, anyway. I have sewing and crocheting projects I could be working on, blog posts I could be writing, bookbinding to do, a novel outline to flesh out. I’m doing none of it. And let’s not even talk about all the reading I’m not doing. I listen to an audiobook every once in a while when I’m cooking or loading the dishwasher, but even those I’m having trouble finishing.
At least, that’s how it was in 2020. But I’m ready for this sluggishness to come to an end in the coming year. If I have to be confined to my home, I want to come out of it at the end with something more to show than how many bad reality shows I binge watched. I need to work on that book outline. I have got to finish that blanket I started a year ago. And I definitely need to keep up with my Goodreads Reading Challenge (I won’t even mention how pitifully I did on it last year). In fact I have a long list of resolutions for 2021, some of which pertain to the topics of this blog, some that don’t. But all of them revolve around one thing: I need to do more. So that is going to be my word for the coming year: more. Whereas last year I might spend an hour once or twice a month writing, in 2021 I will make it a regular semi-weekly practice (I’d like to say daily, but I’m also trying to be realistic). Last year, I used the excuse that I worked so much as a reason to do nothing but veg out in my time off. This year, I will continue my commitment to my work and spend my free time pursuing other accomplishments. I will do more. Less time snoozing on the sofa, more time creating in my office/craft room. I know I have more to give to this world than working and sleeping. This is the year I will prove that to myself.
I love Austin Kleon’s yearly top 100 lists and I was determined to do my own for 2020, almost as a kind of penance for the dismissal we’ve all had for this fucked up year. It was a hard year for me, just like it was for many, many people, but there was also an awful lot to be thankful for and I don’t want to let any of it go unappreciated.
So, here goes, in no particular order:
Even though my husband Keith felt like crap much of the year, he did have consistently good test results, and his cancer has been hanging out close to remission.
Some of the people we love got COVID, but no one had it too bad. Hopefully this trend continues into 2021.
I was surrounded (in a socially-distanced way) by real friendships this year. Friends checked in on me, and I on them, and we all made it through this trying time together. Circumstances of the pandemic prevented surface-level relationships from taking up more than their fair share of time.
I reconnected with my college roommates, and enjoy regular Zoom check-ins now. When we talk it feels like no time at all has passed since we were together, and I hope that lasts for a long, long time.
My sister and I have had what feels like one long ongoing text this year, and it’s nice to have her always checking in and sharing little parts of her life.
I had a Zoom call with my sister-in-law and two nieces the other day and I remembered just how much I love them. I’m so lucky to have gained great people when I got married.
I made our friend Joe a photo banner for his birthday in October and it reminded me of all of the great times we’ve had in our long friendship. So much laughter. The same (but also different) experience making a banner for Brooke’s birthday.
Hanging out in the backyard with a fire and some cocktails isn’t the social life I expected this year, but it’s the one we got, and it was pretty awesome in its own way.
I started swimming in Seattle’s Lake Washington in August, spurred on by my friend Shelley. Then I got really into it and made myself a goal of swimming outside all year round, at least once a week, and have been keeping to it. I AM NOW CERTIFIABLY OBSESSED.
I find great inspiration on Instagram following #wildswimming. Those Brits are really into it and waking up to their new posts every morning is the best kind of social media experience.
Swimming in Puget Sound is exhilarating and COLD and amazing. The temperature on Monday was 48.7 degrees, which is brisk to say the least.
I went swimming in the rain for the first time in Lake Washington and there is something magical about watching the rain drops from underneath the water.
Swimming at high tide at Alki, when the water comes all of the way up the steps and it feels like a giant wild swimming pool.
Making new swimming friends, especially Shelley and Rachel. They are both brave and hard core, each in their own way, and I love having people to push me to try harder simply by their actions.
Being welcomed by Mary Sue at Edmonds beach. I was shy and alone and she was so wonderful and welcoming — what an ambassador for a group of crazy delightful people.
My favorite way to swim these days is just before sunset at Golden Gardens. If we get any sun at all, it’s pretty damn magical. I wonder how many of these winter sunsets I have missed in my time in Seattle.
I went night hiking three times; the first by accident, and I hurried along without really enjoying it. The next two with Krystn and Shannon, and we ended with a big fire and some hot toddies, and it was so beautiful. I want to keep doing it throughout this winter.
On my birthday trip to Palm Springs, we discovered Wyld pot edibles. They’re fantastic, make me laugh and laugh, and have the loveliest packaging.
After four years of trying to get an appointment with the talented Alice Kendall, I finally got my gorgeous new tattoo. I love it so so much. Totally worth the wait.
This summer I got itchy for a little road trip and took Doris out to the Pacific coast for two days of driving and swimming, and a night in a tent at Kalaloch. This place where I live is so beautiful.
I discovered Itchy Boots on YouTube and then Keith and I spent many hours watching her ride her motorcycle through Asia and Africa by herself like such a badass.
The excitement around Ian MacEwan’s long-awaited Long Way Up, and getting to discuss it with my friends as it came out — even though it ended up being not very good.
Keith and I talked for months about which motorcycle would be good for me to learn riding offroad, and I went to try a few out, and then all of the sudden one day Keith showed up with a 2015 Honda CB500X for me in the back of the van. And I love it! Can’t wait to start riding next spring.
Ended up camping twice with the Shifty Clams, my ladies motorcycle gang. It’s so lovely to ride with a group of people, especially knowing that they’re the kind that will never leave you behind, and never force you outside of your limits. It made me want to be better and faster.
My dog Claire is getting old and she is really showing her age. On the days that the other two go to daycare, Claire and I have been going on very special walks, any way she wants, as slow as she wants. She also gets to eat anything out of the fridge that she wants and snacks all day long.
Our youngest pup Doris has become a super snuggler, and curls up in bed or on the couch with me, laying partially on top of me, often with her chin pushing down into me.
My special needs dog Connie has finally learned to play. She now does that adorable play bounce every time I walk in the living room or any time I’m making the bed.
Connie also jumps up on the bed and crawls on Keith’s chest for a good pet. This isn’t really new to 2020 but because we’re home so often, and Keith has spent so much time in bed, she’s done it a lot more than ever before.
I watched so much good TV, too: Ted Lasso. Queen’s Gambit. Bob’s Burgers. Bojack Horseman. Uncle Frank. The Watchmen. The Crown.
I loved watching “late night” TV during the pandemic — a little bit loose, no stupid audience interactions, very little band playing. And I could always just watch the monologues (although I did realize this year just how similar Trevor Noah’s monologue is to Stephen Colbert’s is to Jimmy Fallon’s, etc).
Two new Taylor Swift albums and especially that track with Bon Iver on folklore.
Listening to Toxic Airborne Event after reading the amazing Hollywood Park by the lead singer.
Rebecca’s list of cover songs. I’m anxiously awaiting the release of the Spotify playlist.
Year six of the Quitters Club Book Club. I didn’t finish a few this year, but that was mostly because my interest in books was pretty specific this year, and I didn’t seem capable of forcing myself to read anything that wasn’t capturing my attention.
This was a really good Cutie season and we ate upwards of 100 little clementines. So far. I just bought another 5 pound bag today.
With all of the hoopla about Washington’s new Cosmic Crisp apples (disappointing), Keith and I had a couple of apple taste tests at home, where we bought one of every single apple at the fancy grocery store and rated each one. We very clearly prefer Envys and then Kikus, but also like a good Fuji. I love the Honeycrisp, but he does not.
When we were camping with the Parkers at Dosewallips, Keith felt really terrible, which sucked. He went home as soon as the sun came up, and I hung out with everyone else for a few more hours. Even though I was worried about Keith, I went for a nice hike with Allison and then we found a wonderful swimming hole with deep cold water and two otters swimming nearby. (A month later I’d take the Shifty Clams swimming in that same place and the otters would hang out with us for much longer.)
On Christmas Day, Keith and I drove up to Marblemount, with Matt in his car behind us, and we went eagle spotting along the Skagit and Sauk rivers. We saw nearly a dozen, and just enjoyed the beautiful views and socially distant company. When you free yourself from the traditions of the holidays, you can really enjoy some special times.
All of the holidays were quiet this year, starting with my birthday, which happened right before the COVID lockdown. We were lucky enough to be in Palm Springs, the last trip we’d take for a long time.
While we were in Palm Springs, Keith and I rented some three-wheeled scooters and rode through Joshua Tree National Park. The roads were just gorgeous and it was so fun being on the scooters together.
The pandemic reinforced the fact that I don’t find cooking enjoyable but I did learn to make potato pancakes from my mom’s Marco Polo video, which I really love.
I made the simplest dip from Bon Appetit — greek yogurt and Chinese chili crisp. YUM.
I discovered the Camano Ridge Trail, my new favorite day outing. The hike can be a good six miles, nearly all flat but also feels deep into the forest pretty quickly.
I went to Carkeek nearly every day in November, and I tracked the spawning salmon. There are few natural things I’ve seen that make you appreciate the cycle of life so clearly. So sad, and so beautiful, and so amazing.
I used the excuse of the travel ban to get to know Carkeek park better. It’s my local park, just under a mile from my house. I know every single trail in the park now, and there is so much in a pretty small package — the beach, the forest trails, occasional natural art pieces, the streams with the salmon, and the big open playing fields. Also lots of mushrooms.
Early in the pandemic, and before I had a job, I dyed my hair blue, like I’ve wanted to just about forever.
I’ve actually been dying my hair myself all year, just like I did when I was in college. They’re not the best dye jobs but who cares? There’s no one around to judge them. I’ve saved a ton of money, too.
I went for some (but not enough) bike rides with Krystn this spring and summer, and we christened ourselves #teamcamobutt since we were both wearing camouflage leggings. Riding my bike always makes me feel so strong and I love every minute with my adventure buddy.
This spring Keith and I went up to the University of Washington to go see thousands of crows roost for the evening. I’d read about this years ago but it took the restlessness of the pandemic to actually go check it out.
Once I was back at the foundation, I started regular Friday walks with two of my favorite coworkers. Every week we go somewhere new and they never fail to teach me something about the work we do. They’re better at their jobs than I am, and I try to soak up everything they have to share with me.
Speaking of the foundation, I’m back there as of September. For some reason I wasn’t that excited about going back but I’ve ended up really loving it this time around. I feel more confident in what I’m doing.
I took lots of after dinner bike rides this summer, with my electric bike, down into the neighborhoods west of us, in search of a great sunset.
The new peony I planted in 2019 had its first bloom. It only made two all season but they were pretty spectacular.
July 4 weekend at Lake Chelan: fireworks, playing our favorite songs for one another in the dark, and a gorgeous sunset drive with Keith.
I bought a backyard swimming pool ostensibly for the dogs to cool off but Keith and I enjoyed many afternoons back there cooling our feet and enjoying a frosty beverage.
I spent a good amount of time exploring tide pools this year.
I went on a few sea glass excursions with Rosemary up in Edmonds, but didn’t make it back to Pt Townsend this year like I hoped.
The motorcycle camping trip at Mt Rainier was great from start to finish. That area is so beautiful, and it was a blast to explore it with my girls.
Floating on my back at Cascade Lake on Orcas when I was camping with Sarah. All I could see was the blue sky and the tips of the pine trees. It was a calm moment of heaven.
The next morning, when Sarah and I rode our motos up to Mt. Constitution for breakfast.
Buying dahlias from our neighbors down on 112th.
Learning about the u-pick dahlia farm from Gracie and spending a very hot afternoon out there picking dozens of beautiful flowers.
Delivering those flowers to some people that I love.
Went for a long walk/mushroom hunt in the rain with Krystn and Kha on Camano Island.
Ate the four chanterelles I scored the next morning in some scrambled eggs. So delicious.
Learning to use a GoPro. I still kind of suck at it, but I’m slowly figuring it out. I love learning new things.
Finding natural art works in walks, especially in Carkeek, Shoreview, and in Boeing Park.
Dipping into the Poulsbo bay with Allison twice. She’s so tough.
Seeing Tom Skerrit take a boat load of photos of his dog down at the lake.
Good election results. Thank the fucking lord. I was so nervous the days leading up to the election, I was too exhausted to react on election day or even really that week.
We got a new green carpet that the dogs love. They drag their bellies on it, and wrestle with one another more than ever before.
Quilting with my sister, three thousand miles apart.
Sketchbook exchanges with Daphne, Alex, Shelley, Lola, and Amanda. They’re all really good right now, and I’m looking forward to continuing them all next year, and maybe even starting a couple more.
Zoom calls for Thanksgiving. They were frustratingly hard to get going but it was lovely to see everyone on the screen.
So many naps.
No more aimless shopping trips. Everything online with no guilt.
Rachel’s Ginger Beer. I bought a couple of growlers early in the year and have been meaning to get more ever since. It’s so good and spicy.
The surprising sense of relief from K’s end-of-life conversations. I feel so loved that K wants to take care of me as best he can, even when it’s so hard to do.
The thick new wall-to-wall carpet we put in the basement. It’s luxurious on my bare feet.
The new couch/bed set up for watching TV that Keith dreamed up. I love it.
Finally getting rid of our oil furnace.
My favorite massage therapist Marjani and the health insurance that covers them.
Hoka One Ones! I bought a pair of these orthopedic-looking sneakers and they’re like walking on clouds.
I made a decision to invest in two new coats so that I could overcome bad weather this fall and winter. Both ended up being heavily discounted at REI and they really do make a difference in how easy it is for me to throw one on and go for a walk/hike/bicycle ride.
Ann Patchett, as annoying as I find her personally, continues to blow me away with her masterful writing. I loved Dutch House last year and this recent piece in the Atlantic.
Lola shared her secret to enjoyable grocery shopping: headphones with either great music or audiobooks. I hate grocery shopping and this has made it at least bearable.
Listening to Caitlin Moran’s More Than a Woman while walking Claire and snort/laughing out loud.
Two words: athleisure wear.
Cup-sized bralettes and the end of the underwire bra prison.
Keeping in touch with my Justine, even though she moved away not once but twice this year. Thank god she’s agreed to come back to Seattle next year.
Got off of Facebook (90% anyway) and cleaned up my Instagram so it’s full of posts that inspire me (to get outside, to be more creative) and keeps me in touch with people that I really love.
This was my fourth year of keeping a daily journal, and it was the hardest yet. Somehow with all of the free time the pandemic gave me, it still got extra hard to get to dreaming up an entry for every day. I missed a few, but most of them are filled in with either text or drawings, or ephemera from the day.
All of the Christmas lights that Keith put up on the house, including the colored ones in the front yard, but especially the six white trees in the backyard that light up in the evenings and make the yard look magical.
Our morning ritual — waking up, making coffee and toast, and sitting together at the window reading the news, playing with the dogs, and staring out at the backyard planning the day.
The other day I was doing some research for a job interview and I came across what is now my favorite poem. It is by former Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen and it is the answer to every person (and there have been many) who has ever asked me why I am ok hiking and camping in the wilderness alone.
First of all, I want to curl up and live in the endpapers. So green and lush. Gah!
This is a book I bought in the US but was published in the UK and written by the owner of a small, lovely hotel in Wales. It details all of the ways they think about submerging themselves and guests into the forest, a topic I am obsessed with right now. I love so much of it, starting with the suggestion to not only take walks in the forest by daylight, but to experiment with walking in the dark.
Most of us are afraid of being out in the dark, of walking in the countryside in the gloom of the dusky shadows and silvery glows, the not quite seeing. A city late at night has its own dangers, but a determined-and-with-purpose speed walk will get you home fast and fine. A walk in the woods, through a field or across a deserted beach on a cloudy night without a moon is DARK. The sort of darkness that has an animal quality, like a living thing. All your other senses — hearing, touch, smell — become heightened and alert, making up for your weakened sight… Every time we go out into the dark there is always a nervousness about the unknown and not being able to see properly, like when you go into the deep sea, but as you become accustomed to your surroundings, you can slowly physically connect with the blackness. Once you have done so, you can listen out for snuffles of night animals. (!)
I’ve also bookmarked pages that talk about collecting flowers and branches in every season to take home and use on a homemade wreath, and a section on how to use leftover wax and pine cones to make easy fire starters for the next time I am car camping. It’s a lovely book with good paper and beautiful photos — I’ll keep in out in my living room for awhile. And it’s inspired me to go on a (f)forest adventure of my own tomorrow!
2019 was a really solid year for reading. My life was up and down and all over the place and my aggressive goal of reading 80 books kept bringing me back to reading when a lot of the time all I wanted to do was surf the internet. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when surfing the internet is great, but I spent way too much unproductive time on it this year and I was glad to have the reading challenge nagging me back to books, which to me are more satisfying. In all I read 80 books, nearly 30% of which were on audio. My average rating on a 5 point scale was 3.6, which is naturally skewed because I usually don’t bother to finish books I don’t like which means very few 1s or 2s. I managed to stick with my goal of writing a short 25-word book review for most of the year but fell down on that in the last few months. It’s fun to do and a good memory prompt so I’m going to do it again in 2020.
Eighty is the highest goal I’ve ever set for my reading and I’m re-upping it again in 2020. In order to make it in 2019 I had to borrow a giant stack of graphic novels from the library in mid-December, knowing that I could read them faster than regular adult works. This too ended up being a great prompt. One of the books in my top 10 is a graphic novel (Good Talk) and I rated another three graphic novels 4 stars (Hey, Kiddo; The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt; My Brother’s Husband).
So, without further delay, here are my top ten books of 2019:
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
The River by Peter Heller
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
I’d love to hear what you enjoyed this year — after all, I’ve got 80 books to read!