After Mariah Carey brought us into 2017 with a humiliating Times Square performance, writer Porochista Khapour said she flooded the diva’s Instagram with positive messages. “Nothing was going to work out for quite some time,” she wrote, “but we were all, as the cliché goes, truly in this together.” I had a similar intention when I cooked and baked for people this year. I Know How to Cook was originally a lucky library find; now it is an owned and essential book in my kitchen. In 2017, I worked my way through recipes for soufflés, fried rice and lemon pies (all to varying degrees of success). Regardless of the outcome, I always felt a baseline sense of relief and solidarity in knowing that whatever was happening to the people I care about, I could at least keep them well-fed. Even just for a little while. And maybe, like a compliment from a stranger, that could matter.
Though there's technically nothing Irish about skipping goodbyes, when I visited Ireland with my family this fall I saw enough references to the phrase “until we meet again” to forge a connection. I struggle with change, and goodbyes in particular, so I love the notion of trusting fate enough to see all separations as temporary and goodbyes therefore unnecessary. It's not imperative for me to kiss you goodbye when I leave your party, see, if I can be in your life until we're blue-haired old ladies. Until we meet again. Of the notions I held close this year, this proved to be one of the more freeing.
Since I first heard about Growing Home a few years ago, I daydreamed about visiting. An urban farm on the South Side, Growing Home hires and trains people with barriers to employment and runs healthy food access initiatives in underserved neighborhoods. One day this May, my wish was granted when a coworker and I went on a lunch-hour tour of Growing Home. We bought fresh radishes there that when placed on French bread with butter, parsley and salt were not only a perfect spring snack but a reminder that good things sprout everywhere.
Big tree sensations.
I'm 5 feet and 1.5 inches tall. Even if I were a WNBA forward, I would still be enamored with redwoods. The fact that I'm shorter than the average American woman makes it more magical to witness my regular-sized counterparts feel dwarfed under the canopy of massive, ancient trees. It is delightful to watch someone you consider tall constantly look up. When I saw big trees in Northern California and Ireland this year, I came to appreciate my smallness in a new way, in new states and continents. Being small can sometimes feel like a curse, especially when riding public transit or pants-shopping, but in the forest it's inarguably sublime.
PS. If you love this feeling too, you might like a forest-centric exhibit at the Hyde Part Art Center that I wrote up.
I spent Valentine's Day sorting and handing out cards that non-hospitalized kids made for hospitalized kids. A pre-schooler wrote this card, and (10 months later) I still think about it all the time. Did he mean to write "good," or was she really going for "God?" Is it an observation? A command? I have questions, but no answers could make this anything but the sweetest thing in the world: Tiny hands writing two- and three-letter words recognizing the godliness of a stranger.
I don't know a woman who didn't significantly up her skincare regime this year. The obsession with soaps, toners, moisturizers, masks and creams was less of a trend and more of a balm for a near-apocalyptic year; as Jia Tolentino brilliantly explained in the New Yorker, skincare products came to represent a dream in which the future merely exists. Self-care requires more than face masks and bath salts, but still, those things can't be dismissed. Merz Apothecary, a 150-plus-year-old pharmacy in Lincoln Square stacked with foreign goods, became something of a sanctuary this year; I used this Swedish egg white soap every day. I also became addicted to scrolling through Dermstore and to coating my hands with Skin Food, a German moisturizer, in particular.
One morning in 2012, I saw a lady posing in a weird hat for selfies on the Metra and the secondhand humiliation nearly struck me dead. Cut to 2017, and I literally cannot get enough of my mug in front of that camera. The selfies I take aren't (Kardashian) textbook good or particularly meaningful. But they tell stories I love, encapsulate feelings otherwise hard to express, and require a sense of self-assurance that till recently I lacked. I’ve always wanted to be able to capture the excitement of a cab ride to a party on the first warm night of spring; fleeting moments where I feel everything's right, where I'm thrilled to just be. Selfies are the best font for that. To my Metra train mate: You were right.
At the end of 2016, joy became too lofty a goal of everyday life. So in the New Year I resolved to break down my understanding of joy into snack-sized moments, hoping to find more. All too surprisingly, joy found me, too. As I left for work one morning, I saw a car with a bumper sticker for a North Carolina food catering company that read, in urgent block letters: DON’T POSTPONE JOY. There's nothing particularly cool about kneeling in your street to take a picture of a sincere bumper sticker, but that's the point. Joy, in all its messiness and tiny extravagance, is often deeply uncool, and sweeter for it.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
This classic book would’ve made my list back in '94. It again became a staple, 13 years later, when I regularly read it to an 18-month-old patient at the hospital where I formerly worked. Books made this baby uncontrollably happy. Although his tracheostomy prevented him from speaking, his raspy laugh—like a crumpling paper bag—became my all-time favorite sound. Every day, I visited him in hopes of earning it.
Just as quickly as reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar became our daily ritual, he was soon the person I thought of when my sense of hope—for things big and small—felt weak. Although his life barely existed outside of his hospital room, this baby knew better than anyone how to be happy.
My buddy had his butterfly moment when he returned home one day before I clocked out for the last time. I hope, in some way, that he will carry the time we spent reading together. Even if he doesn’t, I know that book started our little friendship. I’ll love this book's 22 pages forever because of that.