Lost Year. Lost Future?

Nothing anyone writes about 2020 can capture what it really felt like. Human memory doesn't want to hold onto horrors. We want to look away, look forward, move on. If we don't do that we risk sinking into existential dread, drowning in the realities that rise over our heads.

Because it was tragic, at a level we wouldn't believe if someone put it in a movie plot. It is still tragic. Even as I rejoiced in the amazing feeling of having coffee with a friend in a coffee shop--something I took for granted in January 2020, something I treasure as a special moment now--I have to live within these realities.

We still have deep, divisive, damaging racism embedded in everything about the way our world is structured. We've had it for far longer than white people like me recognized, even as we benefited.

We still have the devouring, thoughtless habits of careless consumption that will kill our species. Not the planet--it will survive, in some shape. The Earth doesn't need us to go on. We've lit the planet on fire and we're pouring more gasoline on it every day.

We still have the violent, strange, and polarizing politics that made the simple act of getting a shot--something most of us experienced as a child and yeah, I'm glad I didn't get measles, mumps, whooping cough, or polio, aren't you?--a dividing line.

We still have the yawning chasm between the wealth of a Jeff Bezos--who earns more in one second than some people make in an entire month of hard and thankless work that exposes them to the risk of a potentially deadly disease--and the desperation felt by someone who has to call the back seat of a car their bedroom because that's all they have left.

Historians describe turning points, which are easier to recognize in hindsight than in the moment. I have one particular turning point in mind, though there are many.

I remember my anger when 9/11 happened and I listened to then-President George Bush give us a rousing speech--about why we needed to show that we couldn't be beaten by going shopping. 

I'm the daughter of a World War II veteran. I know that when we were asked as a nation to rise to the challenge of the moment by changing our way of life we were able to grow victory gardens, save tin foil, reduce consumption at home so resources could go to our soldiers overseas. 9/11 could have been a turning point to ask that we reduce our dependence on foreign oil so we wouldn't end up making more enemies in the Middle East. We didn't have to put the lives of our own citizens and others into the tanks of our ever-larger vehicles.

We could have committed to a cleaner and greener future. We could have risen to the challenge. We still could.

And if we did that we would also be doing something to confront the terrible legacies of racism. We would be acknowledging and then reducing the greater burdens of pollution and death by traffic violence created by building an economic structure that asks people to spend more and more time driving farther and farther. We would be making healthier places for everyone. We would treat this lost year as a portal to the future that we want.

When I say "we" here, by the way, I mean "we white people who still hold the majority of decision-making power in this country in every sector." Because "we" is me. "We" is you if you're not speaking up, speaking out, taking action. If we can't collectively learn from this lost year then we have truly lost our future.

2019 Blogging in Review

January: I got the year rolling with a post listing various bike challenges, not all of which I intended to try to complete. Speaking of challenges, compiling a list of everything I read in 2018 was a self-imposed challenge in an effort to give a shout-out to authors who enrich my life with their talents.

February: I decided to make it a lot easier to spotlight authors by compiling my list of books read in smaller chunks, hence the list of books I read in January.

March: I wrote quite a bit more in March. What I read in February, some musings on how differently we would interact on our streets and roads if we all moved the way we do in grocery stores, a round-up of some of my transportation reading (meaning articles, not books), a piece on why someone who owns a bike would use bikeshare, an introduction to my new e-bike Zelda!, and on the last day of the month the list of what I read in March.

April: My blogging energy continued into the cruelest month, sparked by the biking energy that goes with tackling the #30DaysOfBiking challenge. For a while there I thought I might actually do another run of 30 Days of Blogging to go with the biking, so I pushed out a lot of posts:

I even dropped in another round-up of transportation articles along the way.

May: Then life returned to normal and my blogging pace dropped. I posted the list of my April reading.

June: Another quiet month with only my list of May books.

July: You guessed it -- June reading list

August: I should have blogged every single day of my wonderful trip to Copenhagen and London. I didn't. Too busy living the actual life to record it, and that's not an apology.

September: Caught up on the reading list with a July-August round-up, then posted on the innumerable thankless chores of digital housework.

October: Another "too busy to write" month.

December: Something about the end of the year gets me writing again. I had a really wonderful experience with a great version of #BikeSchool, a Twitter chat I lead every so often, this time with guest hosts and the added tags #MoveEquity #WheelsMoveMe to invite in new participants. I belatedly reported on successful completion of the 2019 #coffeeneuring challenge as a series of bike dates with my sweetheart, discussed how my approach to holidays has evolved (and gotten much simpler and easier), and reviewed my year of bike challenge participation. I wrapped it up with a confession about nonfiction books I've started and haven't yet finished to create a bit of public accountability.

And that brings us to 2020. Such a nice, symmetrical number, that. Here's hoping that I round out this new year with enough reading, riding and writing to make me happy. I need high doses of each of these.

Books I'm Not Done Reading (Yet)

I'll be honest. I appreciate so much the research and thought that goes into writing a really well-done work of nonfiction. Over the years I've read hundreds of such works. And yet -- and yet....

These days I will stay up as if I'm a teenager hiding under the covers with a flashlight to finish a book. (That was a thing, children, back before cell phones. Yes, there was a time before cell phones, back when we chiseled our texts on stones and an emoji was called a "facial expression".)

But I don't do that for nonfiction. I do that for fiction. I do that for fantasy and science fiction and historical fiction, books that make me weep, books with a plot that demands resolution and characters whose lives need to make sense, in the end.

Nonfiction has become the thing I read if I'm really behind on sleep (thanks to all those previous up-too-late-finishing-because-I-have-to-know-what-happened nights). I'll learn something, but the writing won't draw me forward, page after page, toward that place where everything comes to rest. Instead my eyelids will come to rest.

In the spirit of true confession, here's a list of nonfiction books I started over the past year and have yet to finish even though I highly recommend each and every one. Possibly this confessional will prod me into finishing them.

  • How to Eat, by Thich Nhat Hanh, from his Mindfulness Essential series: A souvenir of a bookstore stop while at a conference -- I think possibly this is from DC while I was there for the gigantic Transportation Research Board annual meeting in 2018. Over the years I've owned and read many books on Buddhism and mindfulness meditation, including some of his. The deceptively simple precepts help me slow down and pay attention. I've read a few pages of this -- just snacking, you might say. Currently on loan to Second Daughter.
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein: I've been meaning to put this on the list ever since the America Walks webinar on the book and finally picked it up. I started on the plane in March 2019 on my way to the National Bike Summit but got so angry on every page I stopped reading a few chapters in. 
    • If I am right that we continue to have de jure segregation, then desegregation is not just a desirable policy; it is a constitutional as well as a moral obligation that we are required to fulfill. 'Let bygones be bygones' is not a legitimate approach if we wish to call ourselves a constitutional democracy. - Richard Rothstein
  • An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, Rosanne Dunbar-Ortiz (@RDunbarO). This is everything they didn't teach us in school that we need to know. And yes, this too will make you angry. 
    • By the way, if you don't know whose land you're living on you can look it up. I have lived on the lands of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce), Schitsu'umsh (Coeur d'Alene), Spokane, and Duwamish peoples.
    • ...the history of the United States is a history of settler colonialism--the founding of a state based on the ideology of white supremacy, the widespread practice of African slavery, and a policy of genocide and land theft. Those who seek history with an upbeat ending, a history of redemption and reconciliation, may look around and observe that such a conclusion is not visible, not even in utopian dreams of a better society. - Rosanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo). I follow Oluo on Twitter and have had this on my list for far too long. Started in October 2019. Another one that makes me angry -- by which I mean energized to work for change, by the way, not mad at the author. 
    • White Supremacy is this nation's oldest pyramid scheme. Even those who have lost everything to the scheme are still hanging in there, waiting for their turn to cash out. - Ijeoma Oluo
  •  The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City, by Eric Avila. Recommended by Peter Flax, former editor of Bicycling Magazine, in a string of tweets as a corrective to someone's lack of knowledge about the history of highways and what they did to segregate neighborhoods. Highly recommended for anyone working in transportation.
    • ...-The modernist city) enthroned the machine, not ambulatory human beings, as the arbiter of urban spatial design, and it claimed the authority of reason and science, promising to rescue humanity from its self-destructive attachments to history, community, and identity. - Eric Avila
  • That's What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together, Joanne Lipman (@JoanneLipman): Recommended by a friend. Started in December 2019. If you're a man please read this.
    • Benevolent sexism is a well-meaning comment or attitude that ends up diminishing or undermining women. Just one example: after I guest-anchored the CNBC business program Squawk Box one day, I received a text from a businessman I know. It said, in its entirety, "You looked mighty cute on TV this morning.".... after I told this story to a group of women at a bank, the chief executive officer of the company -- the only man in the room -- taught us all how to think about this. "That's easy," he said. "The correct answer is: 'I assume you mean I sounded smart. Thank you.'" - Joanne Lipman
I have plenty of works of nonfiction I haven't even started, so this isn't my entire TBR (To Be Read) list. It's the TBF list: To Be Finished. Lots of learning -- and restful sleep -- lies ahead.

A note on local economies and these links: You should shop at a local, independently owned bookstore. Or check these out through your local library -- did you know they can do that with e-books too, if that's how you read? Links on this page are Amazon Affiliate links unless otherwise noted. I've never made a penny from Amazon but these links give you access to more information and reader reviews. If I ever do make anything I'll donate it to a local nonprofit, maybe Books to Prisoners (if you live in Seattle, Spokane, Olympia, or Portland, Oregon you can volunteer with them in person).

How to End One Year and Begin Another

If our calendars made sense the new year would start the day after the December solstice. We make it through the shortest day and longest night (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). We begin to turn toward the light, toward warmth, toward growth.

Or maybe instead of immediately writing a new date we would have a set of "un-days". Days that appear on no one's calendar (except those that bring you wages or benefits). Days with no work, no expectations. Time dedicated to wrapping things up, taking stock, making everything clean and organized or catching up on sleep. Whatever it takes to feel refreshed and recharged, ready to begin again.

We don't have that. Instead we have a hurly-burly of various traditions that mark the turn toward the light but in so doing create expectations and pressure.

Buy this, cook that. Wrap this, decorate that. Don't clean to create a fresh, calming space -- clean so that people can be impressed by your housekeeping and then mess it all up so you have it to do all over again.

That's what I grew up with. My mom created a beautiful Christmas every year with delicious food, she selected and wrapped gifts with care, she made dozens of cookies of various types to create those magazine-ready plates, she decorated the whole house and everything smelled good. She also didn't work full-time outside the home.

We're done with that model and it feels pretty damn good.

It helps not to have small children who are subjected to social pressure that creates expectations that fall on parents. We have grown kids who profess delight with the cash and gift cards and whatever we feel like cooking.

This year it isn't exactly a "help" that I ended up really sick with a respiratory flu the week before a planned two-week vacation. The days that had few meetings, that I would have spent writing and analyzing and dealing with the email backlog in peace and quiet, turned into days lying on the sofa with generic cough/flu syrup, a water bottle, my Kindle, and some pillows to soften my fall into the sleep that kept dragging me downward to the horizontal.

Oh well. It is what it is.

That's the key to my winter holiday plan: It is what it is.

Examples of what this looks like as I do the things I enjoy, maintain continuity with my memories in ways that work for who I am today, and keep it manageable:

No Christmas tree. 

Instead, Second Daughter and I spent a very pleasant day (on a weekend before the flu hit) going through the ornaments. I had accumulated a bunch I didn't really care about, and had some I got to give each of the kids a start on their own collection. We sorted these out and made a box for Youngest who wants to build up her collection.

I used the ones I like to decorate windowsills and hung them from lamps. We have a cheerfully decorated living space that will be easy to clean up and I emptied one of the storage boxes from the garage as part of my ongoing downsizing.

No giant spread of forty-'leven kinds of cookies. 

I experimented a week or so ago with a vegan shortcake. Pro tip: don't substitute ground almonds for part of the flour or you'll have a gooey something that tastes good but isn't shortcake. Next time I may try this cardamom snickerdoodle recipe instead.

While Second Daughter was there for the weekend I made a batch of cinnamon stars from the 1963 Betty Crocker Cookbook I grew up with because they sounded interesting and were pretty easy. I also made (with her help) the one cookie I'll make every year due to popular demand, the candy cane cookies topped with crushed peppermints/sugar from that same cookbook. Talking about this cookbook on Twitter led to a fun exchange.

In years past I've made spritz with my mom's old cookie press; frosted cookies that took forever and honestly were more interesting to look at than to eat and thus not worth the effort; snickerdoodles with green and red sprinkles because snickerdoodles are The Cookie for me as long as they're bendy in the middle; and various other treats.

Cooking what I feel like eating, spread over a few days instead of in one massive blowout that encourages overeating.

The flu is passing and cooking is one of my favorite things to do when I have a whole day and no time pressure. Yesterday I made a batch of Sarah Gailey's lasagna (did you know "lasagna" is the singular and "lasagne" is the plural?).

Today we made a grocery run to get ingredients for things I feel like cooking and eating over the next few days while Second Daughter hangs out for some cuddle time and Mom cooking. These recipes let me make maximum use of oven heat and will yield some leftovers I can freeze for future lunches. The list is likely to include:

  • Portabello mushrooms stuffed with something along the lines of quinoa, sweet bell peppers, and pine nuts, topped with vegan romesco or muhamarra (it's a toss-up -- love them both)
  • Roasted butternut squash with really good 25-year-old balsamic vinegar (the kind that pours like rich syrup, from The Oilerie in Burien where we did some tasting on one of our coffeeneuring dates as part of my birthday celebrating that stretched over a few weeks) and some chili garlic oil my younger sister gave me on one of our sisters' weekends, with the option of regular feta or a vegan feta I found in a nicely expanded vegan section at Fred Meyer
  • Roasted broccoli because I love it
  • Champagne mashed potatoes, another Sarah Gailey recipe she shared in a series of tweets starting with this one
  • Waldorf salad with a vegan cashew cream dressing (the one from the recipe below) or the yogurt-based dressing from this vegan Waldorf salad recipe
  • Vegan broccoli/red grape salad with dressing options: Thai peanut or a balsamic vinaigrette because I have those on hand. To this recipe I always add shredded red cabbage, grated carrots, and some diced sweet bell peppers in various colors. It's beautiful and tasty.
  • Southern lemon pie with a saltine cracker crust that I'm going to try converting to vegan. I link to the NPR story with the recipe because that's what got me started making this. I found a recipe for vegan sweetened condensed (coconut) milk and picked up some vegan spread to use in the crust in place of butter.
  • Vegan cream of mushroom soup. Super simple and so delicious. Last time I made this I had some cauliflower I needed to use up. I boiled that and a few potatoes, pureed them in the food processor with some homemade veggie broth, and made that part of the creamy base for the soup. It was fantastic. I add celery to this recipe.
  • Decidedly unvegan cornbread from an old New York Times Magazine recipe that involves pouring whipping cream into the middle to create a custardy center, baked in a heated cast iron pan for a crispy crust.
  • Vegan nog, which takes all of about 5 minutes because I have nut milk and coconut milk on hand and make cashew cream ahead and keep it in the freezer

This sounds like a lot. But my mom would have done something like this list plus a turkey, gravy, three more kinds of pie, glazed carrots, peas and mushrooms in a wine sauce, and rolls, all for one day in which she also trotted out at least half a dozen homemade hors d'oeuvres platters and the forty-leven cookie varieties.

I'm doing my cooking spread out over at least two days, maybe three. And this list is only one in my head, not something to which I've committed that a dozen or more people will show up to eat at a specific date and time.

No gift shopping on a timeline. Don't get me wrong; I love giving gifts. I like giving them at times people aren't expecting them as a "just because".

I don't ignore the gift-giving element at this time of year; I'm enough of a product of my upbringing that it would feel pretty cold not to give a gift now. But it's sure easier when I don't have to fight people at the mall.

I gave Eldest Daughter and her beau a movie gift card early so they could use it for the Star Wars opening and they now have half a dozen or so movie dates to look forward to. (She also got dental work paid for, which is a little challenging to wrap....) Second Daughter is going to get a shopping expedition to prepare her for some international travel with things she needs (or things I think she needs, like mosquito netting and a rechargeable flashlight -- shhh, don't tell her). Engineering Student Son gets a gift certificate for the online gaming platform he frequents. Youngest Daughter -- yep, another gift certificate.

Seriously, I remember the year my mom finally gave up trying to guess at my personal style and instead just sent me downtown with her credit cards as one of the best Christmases ever so this is not a copout, this is responsive parenting.

As for Sweet Hubs, the other thing I did to make the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year pretty perfect was to book a getaway to the hotel where we spent our honeymoon. We'll celebrate our date-a-versary there: the 14th anniversary of our first date, which happens to fall on my parents' wedding anniversary. We'll have a fireplace, a spa tub, a view of the ocean, and no expectations other than being together.

That's how to end the old year and start the new year. Relaxed, happy, content, in love. It is what it is.