A new year begins when there’s a memorable change in my life. Not January 1st. Nothing changes on January 1st. … Your year really begins when you move to a new home, start school, quit a job, have a big breakup, have a baby, quit a bad habit, start a new project, or whatever else. Those are the real memorable turning points — where one day is very different than the day before. Those are the meaningful markers of time. Those are your real new years.
I read this just after New Year’s but thought of it recently after noting a significant milestone: Ten years ago this weekend a musical called Tell Me Truly debuted on a stage at my college. It was written and scored by me and my longtime friend, and staged by our friends and fellow students. It was one of the best times and accomplishments of my life.
Ten years is too long and arbitrary a timespan to have any intrinsic meaning to a human brain. My memories of that experience don’t reemerge every year on the anniversary of opening night. They remain with my other “meaningful markers of time” in a bank of memories, accumulating interest as I age and deposit more experiences.
“Memories make us rich,” as the sportswriter Vic Ketchman is fond of saying. In that case, I’m pretty well-off.
This year in review is a little shorter than the last few, primarily because it consists of whatever I could do outside of work, having and raising a baby, and buying and managing a house—all of which took most of my time and energy. But here, roughly in chronological order, are some highlights from my trip around the sun:
If you have met me in the last 15 years, there’s a decent chance you have seen me in this orange jacket:
I acquired it in 2004 on a trip from Madison to Kansas City with a few people from my youth group to attend a conference. We stopped at a Salvation Army somewhere along the way, which is where I spotted it. Don’t remember how much it cost, but since I’ve worn it for darn near half the year every year since, I’d say it was a sound investment regardless.
It had the same appeal then as it does now: a bold orange color, accessible pockets, and the perfect thickness for use as a spring and autumn jacket—not too thick and not too thin.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to find another light jacket. It’s starting to fray now, having served me and previous owners well for who knows how long. Something more waterproof or muted might be a better look and practical move.
But by Jove, I’m sticking with it, because I stick with useful things to their bitter end. It’s my only play against planned obsolescence and conspicuous consumerism. Until I accidentally lose it or it disintegrates beyond repair, it’s staying on my coat rack. That’s the only way to honor such a reliable companion.
Part of the This Is My series, documenting meaningful objects in my life.
This pullout couch was in my grandparents’ lakeshore cabin for decades before I was born. Then it was in my parents’ basement for another two decades or so. Then it was in my apartment for a few years. And now it’s gone to couch heaven, after we finally bade it farewell to make better use of the space in our two-bedroom apartment.
It was scratchy, kinda ugly, and an absolute beast to move up three flights of stairs. The mattress was thin, requiring us to add several layers of sleeping bags and mattress pads to make it hospitable enough to the human back.
But it was a free and sturdy couch, with family history, in surprisingly good condition for its age. The cushions are still plump and the pullout bed mechanism as reliable as ever. Having a pullout allowed us to host many guests over the years, which saved them the expense of a hotel room and provided us with lots of invaluable memories.
Odds are likely we’ll get another pullout couch one day, though I doubt whatever we get will last as long as this one. My dad said it best: “Goodbye iconic, hospitable, historic and faithful couch. (Notice I didn’t say comfortable.)”
What am I doing New Year’s Eve? Looking back at my 2018 calendar and logbook to remember the notable happenings that made up my year. In roughly chronological order:
Started a paper logbook (a la Austin Kleon) in a Moleskine notebook I got for Christmas. Have actually kept it going regularly, and enjoy it much more than my previous journals in composition notebooks, probably because it’s not lined. This encourages me to do things like magazine mashups and tape other life ephemera and keepsakes inside. It’s a much richer diary because of that.
2/24/18 log: “Today at work an older guy was looking for White Heat, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. I found them on the DVD shelves and he said, ‘You’re the nicest guy on this side of the tracks.’ Thank you?”
Started going to a local independent barber shop and love it
Wrote or quoted some opinions about Donald Trump and have yet to be proven wrong
Got a real, professional massage and why don’t I do that more often?
Saw I’m With Her in concert at Thalia Hall
Wrote several Refer Madness columns for Booklist
Bought a Royal Arrow typewriter and then sold my rickety Royal Quiet De Luxe
Saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Music Box in Chicago
Went to wife’s cousin’s wedding at Illinois Beach State Park
Visited Colorado for my friend Tim’s wedding in Denver: stayed at a gorgeous Airbnb in Maintou Springs, hiked in the Rocky Mountain National Park, rode a vintage Otis elevator at the Hotel Boulderado, ogled the stunning Boulder Public Library, toured the Celestial Seasonings headquarters, wended through the hoodoos of the Painted Mines Interpretive Park, shot billiards until 1 AM, cried and danced and gave a speech at Tim’s wedding
My season of celebrating Christmas has begun. This year I thought it would be fun to document exactly how I usually get into the spirit of the season, through music, movies, and rituals. I’ll update this post as I go.
Friday, November 23
Listened: Season’s Greetings by Perry Como, Christmas Party by She & Him, Bing Crosby Sings Christmas Songs by Bing Crosby, At Christmas by James Taylor
Saturday, November 24
Listened: Let It Snow, Baby… Let It Reindeer by Relient K, Christmas Songs by Jars of Clay, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra by Frank Sinatra, Christmas radio
Watched: Grumpy Old Men
Did: put up decorations at my parents’ place
Sunday, November 25
Listened: Christmas with the Rat Pack, Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens, Under the Mistletoe by Justin Bieber, Christmas radio
Watched: Elf (first 30 minutes)
Did: put up decorations in our apartment
Monday, November 26
Listened: Songs for the Season by Ingrid Michaelson, Christmas is Here! by Pentatonix
Watched: A Charlie Brown Christmas, remainder of Elf
Did: enjoyed the first Chicagoland blizzard of the season, first ceremonial snow-scraping of the cars
Tuesday, November 27
Listened: Christmas Portrait by The Carpenters, Snow Globe by Matt Wertz, Come On, Ring Those Bells by Evie, The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs
Wednesday, November 28
Listened: “All I Need Is Love” by Cee-Lo Green & The Muppets, Light of the Stable by Emmylou Harris, Merry Christmas Good Night by Morning And Night Collective.
Watched: Holiday Inn
Thursday, November 29
Listened: Blood Oranges in the Snow by Over the Rhine, Merry Christmas Good Night by the Morning And Night Collective
Watched: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Friday, November 30
Listened: Christmas with Johnny Cash by Johnny Cash, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald
Sunday, December 2
Listened: Christmas Favorites by Nat King Cole
Tuesday, December 4
Watched: The Family Stone
Friday, December 7
Listened: Home for Christmas by Hall & Oates, Songs for the Season by Ingrid Michaelson
Sunday, December 9
Listened: Jingle All the Way by Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Advent Christmas EP by Future of Forestry, “Mittens” by Carly Rae Jepsen, Stan Boreson Fractures Christmas by Stan Boreson
Monday, December 10
Listened: Advent Christmas EP Vol. 2 by Future of Forestry
Thursday, December 13
Listened: Christmas Collection, Volume One by Sleeping At Last
Friday, December 14
Listened: Oh For Joy by David Crowder Band, Pretty Paper by Willie Nelson
Sunday, December 16
Listened: Christmas Party by She & Him, Snowfall by Tony Bennett, Songs for the Season by Ingrid Michaelson, The Songs The Season Brings by Beta Radio, Ultimate Christmas Collection by The Jackson 5
Thursday, December 20
Listened: A Very Rosie Christmas by Rosie Thomas, Holiday Songs and Lullabies by Shawn Colvin, Family Christmas Album by The Oh Hellos
Friday, December 21
Listened: Christmas with the Rat Pack
Watched: Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
Saturday, December 22
Listened: Snowed In by Hanson, Rocky Mountain Christmas by John Denver, O Come All Ye Faithful by King’s College Choir
“Come on, Doc, it’s not science! When it happens, it just hits you. It’s like lightning.” – Marty McFly, Back to the Future Part III
A couple nights before my buddy’s wedding, I was at his house with a bunch of other guys for a time of toasting, roasting, and advice-giving. One thing I shared was how immediately evident it was to me that the couple was The Real Deal, and how a similar certainty hit me like a bolt of lightning when I first met my future wife.
Later on, the wedding reception was held at Ace Eat Serve, a ping pong hall in a converted auto garage serving pan-Asian cuisine. (Loved the amazing food and the novelty of playing ping pong at a wedding.) The ping pong tables outside were made of concrete and had metal nets with Ace’s lightning logo cut through them, which in the sunlight looked like this:
It’s almost as if I was at the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.
Here are four things I recommend to make your time in the kitchen better.
Onion goggles. My wife and I laughed at these when we saw them in a store, because they are laughable. It took a few passes before we gave them a try, and now I’m mad at myself for all that pointless, ugly onion crying I endured before now.
Gordon Ramsay’s onion cutting technique. After yet again botching what should be a routine process, I hit up YouTube for a more efficient way to cut onions. This one was a minor epiphany. Unless you need slices, this is the way to go.
Manual food chopper.I love being able to mince several garlic cloves in a few seconds. It’s a few more pieces to clean but totally worth it.
Immersion hand blender. I make breakfast smoothies regularly, but using a traditional blender was a nightmare. The ingredients would whip up to the sides of the glass and not blend, and it was a pain in the ass to clean. Got one of these on a recommendation and it changed everything. Easy to blend and clean, and it’s the perfect serving size. (And get you some reusable metal straws, people.)