There’s a place I go at the end of the year. That suspended, ethereal place between Christmas and New Year’s, when Christmas isn’t but still is, the New Year here but not quite there.
The hours pass uniquely this week somehow, different from all the others; muffled soft and thick, like cold molasses poured through a sparkling, snowy glow.
I am not religious in the slightest (although I used to be: fanatically, in fact, but that is another story). I am an atheist who loves Christmas. One who loves trees and tinsel and lights, and to reflect on the passing year, pondering what was supposed to have been with what actually was.
Twenty Sixteen, you were not nice. An outlier, though, as most years of my life, in the grand scheme of things, have been if not good, then at least bearable. Which leads me to believe there was something important to learn from you. So here I go, relaying, in no particular order, observations from 2016 as related to favorite work consumed last year.
Early mental models are everything.
“The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fizz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam. I suppose I was about four.” – M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me.
Dutch Babies are one of Bria’s favorite things for breakfast. On Sundays, we wake early and make them together, opening the oven to watch the fluffy air bubbles grow. Her other breakfast of choice is bread and oil and peanut butter banana shakes with Castelvetrano olives and a square of dark chocolate. Through cooking and eating together, developing a shared love of food is one of the legacies I want to leave with her (not to mention a love of snow). For what happens in the first five years of life stays forever.
Childhood mental models are the building blocks on which our entire worlds are formed. More and more research points to the importance of the developing brain in the first five years of life. Which is why we continue to invest time and money in early childhood education for Bria. Her entrance into this world was not under the best of circumstances, but hopefully, Will’s and my efforts at providing support and stability for her and Michaela will be felt for years to come. After a couple of years in daycare at Bright Horizons, she is now enrolled in the Alcuin School, a private preschool on Queen Anne where she is starting to read. This is money we could be saving for other things, but we have no regrets. Investing in Bria is one of the best investments we could ever make.
Business building is city building.
“A sense of place is built up, in the end, from many little things too, some so small people take them for granted, and yet the lack of them takes the flavor out of the city….” – Jane Jacobs
The soul of a city is made up of small businesses. My soul is nourished by building one. Bellflower Chocolate Company is steadily growing. We are not profitable yet, but now have our products in 12 locations across four states and our cargo bike Kickstarter was funded: our first mobile retail space, we anticipate launching the bike in Spring, 2017.
More importantly, life as a small business owner introduces us to amazing people in Seattle and around the U.S. whom we otherwise would have never met. Like Lucas Rickerson, the young, passionate, talented barista we met through Instagram and La Marzocco. Jill Killen and Neil at Royal Drummer in Ballard, who helped us throw our inaugural coffee and chocolate pairing. Demian at Annie’s Art and Press, with whom I’m working on packaging for new limited edition bars. And Simran Sethi, the strong, amazing, feisty, opinionated writer of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. She was at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November and I met her during the women-in-chocolate happy hour. I am oh so happy I did!
Growing old is hard.
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true, I was made for you. – Brandi Carlile, The Story
2016 marks the last year of my 40s. The past few years, more notably than ever, I’ve watched myself age and it is not fun. No. Not only is it not fun, it’s harder than I thought. But every time I find myself dwelling on youth lost via an increasing number of lines across my own face, creaks in my joints, cancers on my hands (I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my right hand this summer), and dimples on my thighs, I hum the lyrics above, buy another pair of designer high tops (I can still wear high heels, but not like I used to), and renew my vows to always strive for glamour anyway. Less fretting, more red lipstick, more doing as French women do. To grow old and lose my looks in the process is a privilege, I constantly remind myself. The only other option is to stay beautiful but die young.
“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.” – Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
I always take my wedding rings off when baking or rowing. Hidden under my silver bands lies pale, emaciated, puckered skin, shrink-wrapped to my fourth finger bone. It looks odd and feels even odder. I am diminished with my wedding rings off, and immensely relieved to put them back on.
I’ve considered during significant moments in 2016 to take them off for good. Marriage is messy and hard and painful and binding and stressful because we are emotional humans, and sometimes I don’t want to do it anymore. I just want to run away to Paris and live unfettered, alone. But doing that would determine the arc of my story in ways that would leave the whole of me pale, emaciated, and puckered. I am still married because Will is a wonderful human to be married to and married is what I want to be.
Solutions can be elusive.
“An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
I don’t remember much about my mother, but I do remember a plaque she had hanging on her wall when I was little: “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” it said.
Bria’s father is a young black male. I am a middle-aged white female. Will is privileged and white. We have been in and out of the court system with Bria’s father since Bria was born and not a day goes by that I don’t consider the power dynamics of this relationship and how they rest in our favor due to our skin color. I straddle a very thin line between enabling and condemnation, empathy and hate. And while I very much want to end this paragraph on a note of resolution, I can’t. For now, I remain conflicted, reading to gain context, seeking first to understand, trying to find ways to be part of the solution by not looking away.
The kitchen is my studio.
“No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread.” ― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
My stainless steel bench is my palette; the spatula my brush; eggs, oil, and flour, my paint. 2016 was stressful for many, but to be culinary is to be calm and centered. I love to cook and take great pleasure in sharing things I’ve made to the sensual delight of other peoples’ mouths. Some of my most memorable culinary creations in 2016, according to Will: lentils with cream and pancetta. Farro salad with candied lemon and pistachio. Salted caramel, fried fish, dark chocolate and olive oil gelatos, numerous stone fruit galettes, sweet and savory crepes on the leafy back patio and the famous Momofuku birthday cake. And lastly, Bellflower’s candied cacao nibs. “Like crack!” people say.
We still have a long way to go, baby. A really long way.
“Introduction: Domestic violence (DV) continues to be a widespread societal problem with consequences both inside and outside the family. Once considered merely a symptom of other underlying individual problems such as poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, or a dysfunctional relationship, domestic violence now is understood to be a problem in and of itself that is found independent of or co-occurring with other individual, family, or community problems.” – Washington State Domestic Violence Manual for Judges, written by the Honorable Helen Halpert, the presiding judge over my daughter’s domestic violence child custody case.
Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to date assholes. If only it were that easy. They say that patterns follow families; almost every woman in my immediate family has experienced significant levels of domestic violence, including my mother in her first seemingly untouchable Ivy-league, privileged white marriage to an heir of the Bemis Bag Company. One of my deepest regrets as a parent was failing to prevent my own daughter from suffering this same fate: in 2016, we continued learning the intricacies of the Revised Code of Washington as it mandates family law and domestic violence policies, all resulting from a guy my daughter met as a freshman at Roosevelt High School, twelve long, painful, twisted years ago.
I don’t discuss this openly with that many people because not everyone understands nor cares to understand the dynamics of abusive relationships: this subject makes people very uncomfortable. The discomfort I can handle, but the ignorance I cannot. My responses are most likely to be filled with impatient flashes of indignant anger, and so…I say nothing.
I’m writing openly about it here, however, because this medium shields me from your discomfort: people don’t know what they don’t know, but should. Odds are highly likely that you know a woman who’s been a victim of domestic violence and if I could only help you understand three things, it would be these: misogyny is everyone’s poisonous problem; we must all, especially men, teach boys not to abuse; and most importantly, it is not her fault.
I will always love snow.
“The snow-covered world is an abstraction of the world that lies underneath: the details are smoothed over, the color is removed, all that is left is an essence of shape. These are the forms that one can work with. This is how the mathematician thinks. This is what she does, in her minds eye, to the world around her.” – Gregory Buck, The Wondrous Mathematics of Winter
I miss snowy winters. My earliest mental models consisted of a world that was white: of Austrian ski sweaters and the tips of six-foot icicles dripping down from building tops to meet impossible depths of snow. I love snow and realized this year while at the Methow Valley that I will be contrarian into very old age. I will retire one day to the snow and cold rather than sand and warm.
The future is brown.
And don’t worry If you don’t approve when they criticize you
It’s me It’s me It’s me
– Bomba Estéreo, “Soy Yo”
An “ode to little brown girls everywhere”, this is my favorite video of 2016. Bria, this one’s for you. The future is brown and we are not going back. Said Gloria Steinem in response to Trump’s election:
“When a woman is about to escape a violent household is the time when she is most likely to be beaten or murdered. She’s about to get outside of control. Just as we wouldn’t send a woman or child back to a violent household, we’re not going to go back. And maybe we’re about to be free.”
Let us fight for this freedom in 2017. With love, peace, and civil disobedience.