I don’t need to sit here and tell you that 2017 was a difficult year. The past twelve months have been challenging to be a human (at least one who is capable of empathy for other humans/elephants/starving polar bears), but on a micro-personal level, they’ve presented difficulties to my family that eclipse my imagination’s capabilities. Uncertainty has been as ubiquitous as kindergarten-grade Tweets with the White House seal, and permanent, life-altering changes have imposed themselves into our forevers. It’s been stressful, and what do I reach into my purse and fish out when I’m certain that the world is folding in on itself? My Chase United Miles Credit Card! A shiny, sleek passport to a fresh hit of retail therapy, while accruing frequent flyer miles to get the hell out of here right alongside the unconscionable interest! 


Is giving into the worst impulses of capitalism’s delusions a healthy way to cope with an uncertain epoch? Of course not! I am fiscally irresponsible and cannot be trusted in a room with purses shaped like things, swing dresses with loud prints, or glittery bottle brush trees. I frequently risk the financial security of tomorrow for the whimsical distraction of today. I feather a nest to cushion a fall and muffle out the rest of the world. It’s not smart, but it’s a vice I know is a matter of managing, not eliminating. I express and comfort myself with things. I’m a material girl living in a melting world. And someday, if we can make it without annihilating this planet beforehand, you’re all in for one hell of an estate sale.



10| A MATTERHORN MACAROON

In February, my husband Matt came home from work and made an off-hand remark about one of his company’s customers needing assistance on the 14th. “I told them they were out of luck,” he said. “I can’t fly down to Anaheim and leave my wife by herself on Valentine’s Day. Not if I, you know, want to still have a wife and all.”


“I know a way you can make everyone happy,” I said, doing what I always do whenever someone mentions Orange County: throw together an elaborate scheme to get myself from Point A to Disneyland’s admission gate.


The vast majority of my schemes to get to Disneyland from Portland don’t work because it’s 964 miles away, it costs at least $100 a day to be allowed inside, and I married someone who thinks the whole thing is an overhyped nostalgia machine devoted to make corporate assholes rich off of nine-dollar corn dogs. But this time, there was a strange static in the air, and a text to Matt’s boss turned into a quick email to mine making sure I could take a couple days off work the next week, and a frequent flyer companion fare to John Wayne Airport, and a carry-on bag packed with my favorite mouse ears. My Valentine’s Day gift was a trip to my favorite place by myself, while Matt went out to the customer site.


It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had.


I didn’t have to worry about someone else getting tired while I criss-crossed from Splash to Space Mountain, or thinking that The Golden Horseshoe Jamboree was boring and dumb, or being impatient because I took five laps around the Emporium to make sure I didn’t miss out on any super amazing keychains. I got to watch coordinating couples dance underneath the fireworks and sneak in front of them to the head of the line. No one stopped me from ordering a Matterhorn Macaroon from the Jolly Holiday Bakery for dinner, a snack I’d only seen on Pinterest in the past, and taking a requisite Instagram shot of it while slipping into a one-person spot to watch the parade. The day was one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever accidentally given me: a free pass to relish in my dorky, cherished favorites. And the discovery of delicious, coconut-frosted new ones.



9| BOOKS BY FRIENDS

This year wasn’t one where I got to do a whole ton of “literary stuff.” There was no AWP, no Tin House Workshop, no acceptances to any of the esteemed residencies I applied to. I didn’t get out to as many readings in the Portland scene as I would have if I had that craftsman bungalow centrally located off Alberta Street that I’ve been dreaming about since I moved to the city for college. Metro traffic from my sub-suburban home to the metro center has gone from a rush hour nuisance to a slow poisoned shank to the spirit in the exact same time frame that I’ve gotten to that I’m-thirty-three-and-if-I-can’t-go-directly-home-after-work-I-will-have-a-nervous-breakdown stage of life.


Fortunately, when you have writer friends all over this maddening country continuing to put in the work, you don’t have to find street parking next to Powell’s as a reminder that you’ve not alone on Writer Island. This year my mailman dropped off a fresh library shelf of new books that inspired me to keep going this year, including It’s Just Nerves by Kelly Davio, Hole in the Middle by Kendra Fortmeyer, The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, Everything We Don’t Know by Aaron Gilbreath, Felt in the Jaw by Kristen Arnett, Playing with Dynamite by Sharon Harrigan, and Hot Season by Susan DeFreitas. So really, I did go to AWP 2017. It was just an off-site event 2,835 miles away.



8| RAMEN LIFESTYLE SUPPLIES

This spring, I went to Uwajimaya for ramen noodles and came home with a commitment. Matt had just returned from his first company trip to Tokyo, the Number One Place I Must See Before the Apocalypse since I was a teen taking Japanese language lessons and actually believing I could learn enough to function there. I spent the week eating sushi and Google Earthing his hotel. To celebrate his return (and souvenirs in the checked luggage), I decided to jump head-first into the wonderful world of home-cooked ramen.


Although fresh ramen noodles aren’t common at regular chain grocers, even in Foodlandia (save for some terrible looking whole wheat varietal that occasionally creeps up next to the tofu), we are blessed with an Uwajimaya, the Asian grocer founded in Seattle nearly a century back. Whenever I am out of sorts I carve an hour out of a day to wander the magical aisles of Kewpie mayonnaise, indecipherable cartoon snack bags, and precious sesame oil carafes.


Needless to say, I’ve been a frequent patron of the Beaverton Uwajimaya in 2017.


On the way to the fresh noodle section and its ramen, udon, yakisoba and gyoza wrapper possibilities, I took a hard left into housewares where I ended up staring with full-on slack-jawed yokel face at hundreds of perfectly stacked bowls, realizing that any ramen I made would taste like boiled garbage if it wasn’t presented in the correct serverware. I stood for five, ten minutes, hypnotized by infinite soy sauce dish/noodle bowl/tea cup combinations, before I realized there was a woman maybe four feet from my cart frozen, making the very same face.


“I came here for ramen, but now I need everything,” I laughed.


“Oh god, me too. I’m throwing a sushi party and I thought I just needed nori wrappers.”


When I got home, I unpacked my new tablescape. A blue handpainted teapot, coordinating cups, fresh lacquered chopsticks, bowls like cauldrons, and those little ladle-like spoons that are inseparable from a wonton soup order. Did it make my pork ramen and oolong tea taste better than it would have in my Fiestaware? You may say “no bitch, you are delusional,” but to you I say… well, yeah. You bring up a valid point.



7| A RETRO BLUE SOUNDERS JERSEY (ONE FOR ME, AND AN EARLY FATHER’S DAY PRESENT FOR DAD)

Two thousand sixteen ended on a single high note when my dear Seattle Sounders (that’s soccer, guys) won the MLS Cup (it’s the Super Bowl for soccer, guys). To celebrate the first such win in the club’s history, the Sounders released these super slick blue-and-white retro jerseys to kick off the 2017 season. They were emblemized with our winner star and the 1970’s era logo, when my high school-aged dad started going to games. Twenty years later I was in middle school and tagging along for something to do in the real true city of Seattle (45 minutes from my logging outpost hometown), and fell in love with these workhorse players who weren’t receiving a fraction of the press and attention that the Mariners, Seahawks and Sonics lapped up. They were the drama geeks of Washington sports. AKA, my people.


Another 20 years later and we were cheering for our generational favorite team in a stadium built for 68,000 fans, bringing home the highest honor a Major League Soccer team can hold. I already had a standard-issue green jersey for the many matches I commuted up north to see, but I couldn’t shake the craving for something truly special to commemorate what would hopefully be another spectacular year—at least for the soccery corners of my heart.


At the opening home match, in fresh new matching jerseys, my dad and I took selfies with the Cup and cheered ourselves hoarse as the Sounders handedly defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-1. There were fireworks and streamers and our favorite team in our beloved sport was back with a fresh new banner above our seats: 2016 MLS CUP CHAMPS.


The next week, my dad would suffer a stroke behind his eye that would permanently disable his vision. He would no longer be able to drive into the city for games, or read the program without magnification. Without the ability to drive or quickly read mail, he’d be forced to retire from his job as a letter carrier. One game things were the way they always had been, and by the next match, they weren’t.


This is when I learned to always do the thing. When it involves the people you love most in the world, Always Do The Thing. The thing that may be a pain in the ass, or more money than you want to spend, or a long way away, or god knows what other little inconvenience you’ll forget when the people you love are gone and the time of celebration is a memory.


Be there. Dress best. Do the thing.



6| SLEEPY ALPINE CHRISTMAS VILLAGE FROM THE 1960s

What did I hear the most when I decorated the house for Christmas in 2017? “Where did that come from?” This was a year I got a teensy bit carried away with antique and vintage shopping for midcentury holiday decorations, which start appearing in shops around late summer. The past decade has been a steady transition from our first apartment’s JoAnn Fabrics bargain tote-o-ornaments to an actual style, typified by my grandma’s ceramic light-up Christmas tree and the blow mold Santa and snowman that light up the front window. I’ve squirreled away a forest of bottle brush trees, velvet reindeer and tinsel wreaths, picked up over months on my weekend pop-ins to my favorite shops to just “see if there’s anything new.” There is no surface in my house in December that isn’t claimed by a cotton glitter angel or nutcracker.


But my most fantastic, loved find? A pristine Putz house village in the original box, designed with Mary Blair-style graphics that deserved framing. The dozen tiny cardboard painted houses—a hotel, a double-decker chalet, the requisite church—appeared untouched. I arranged them along our fireplace using the original twinkle light strand, and when I plugged them in the first night after Thanksgiving, a new discovery: each building contained a different color of cellophane window, giving the Sleepy Alpine Christmas Village promised by that gorgeous box a magical glow half a century in the making.



5| A DONATION TO PLANNED PARENTHOOD

Made in Mike Pence’s name, natch.



4| EXTRA LEAF TICKETS FOR ANIMAL CROSSING: POCKET CAMP

Those balloon hearts and grinning creatures are morphine to the soul.



3| CHELLA EYEBROW GEL

How did we live before filling in our eyebrows? HOW DID WE EVEN HAVE FACES? There was a stick of Chella Eyebrow Gel in my Ipsy bag, and then there was no going back.



2| A CABIN AT SILVER FALLS STATE PARK (FOR 3 NIGHTS)

As previously mentioned, I didn’t get into the fancy residencies I staked all of my hopes into this year, but I still had a book manuscript to finish editing. “That’s FINE,” I muttered to my computer. “I’ll make my own residency.” With trees! And s’mores! And 99% less awkward conversations with people I didn’t know were going to be there but I can’t seem to escape, because the literary world is microscopic!


Silver Falls State Park is about 40 minutes from my house and has rustic cabins with just enough basics to make a trip comfortable: heating, electric receptacles, and bathrooms a short walk away. I made a reservation for April, right before I’d promised to have my edited book back to the publisher. With a few days away from the office and the house, I was sure I could deep dive into my work.


Here’s the thing about Oregon in April. It can be clear and warm and springy, or it can be a freezing, pouring pit of despair. And in my entire Pacific Northwest lifetime, I had seen few rains that could compare with the monsoon dumping on Silver Falls when I arrived at Cabin Number 5 along the north river. I burned cut pages of my manuscript and Amazon shipping boxes to make a infinitesimal fire. My cooler was attacked in the middle of the night by a gang of fat, vindictive raccoons. My handwritten notes and edits got splotched with rain.


But there was no cell service. It was too miserable to walk out to my car, let alone down to the falls. There was nothing to do but to burrow into all the blankets I’d brought along and immerse myself in making each essay, each sentence of my book better than it had been. For the first time in months of everyday distractions and obligations, I was able to devote everything to turning a draft into something that no longer made me cringe.


By the third and last day of my reservation, a new ending was drafted on the back page and like a cliché  resolution that would be gutted in workshop, the rain clouds drifted away. A cool spring sunshine made the dewy park shimmer, and I had the entire trail to the falls all to myself. I hiked down to the iconic caves facing “the back-side of water” and breathed in the mist as it coated my chapped skin and messy, frizzing hair. I was electric with the labors of my true passion, and in this way, in this moment, I was alive.



1| A REAL MUNICH DIRNDL

As part of that whole maybe the world is ending, let’s do some cool stuff philosophy, I took my first trip outside of the United States this year. Okay yes, I did go to Vancouver a couple of times growing up, and there were 20 not-so-good minutes spent in Tijuana when I was 10 and we took an ill-advised detour from the San Diego Zoo. But nothing far or long or monumental. This March we booked tickets to Munich for Oktoberfest, along with a weeklong visit to Paris by train. This would knock numbers two and three off that Places I Must See Before the Apocalypse list. In the six months before takeoff we saved every errant dollar we could find; we took cans back for change and sold crap on eBay. Any bonus or birthday check from a grandma went straight into our savings jar. I rolled hundreds of quarters into paper sleeves so our bank would accept them as currency.


Although the promise of croissants and pretzels was a strong motivator, the real drive came from one souvenir. A true German dirndl, the kind I’d been eyeballing since childhood. Is there any outfit more whimsical, more adorable than a dirndl? There are ribbons, and puffy scalloped sleeves, and an apron for wiping bratwursty hands upon! You get to wear knee socks, and are specifically discouraged from pairing with heels! You can add a crinoline, or nah! It legitimately looks good on every single body type!


When we touched down in Munich and I wept on the plane because the land was as green as home but dotted with little storybook towns instead of Target-Chipotle-gas station-repeat, our first post-check in activity was walking to the Trachten shop. Half a mile away was a two-story building selling nothing but dirndls, lederhosen, and Alpine-grade accessories. It was packed. They were selling beer and shots of Jagermeister at the door. I couldn’t speak a sentence of German, but with a lot of wild hand motions on both sides of the counter, the sales associates brought out a perfect fitting real deal in my favorite, love-it-so-much-it’s-my-wedding-colors hues.


“SUPER!” The saleswoman exclaimed, the only English word she presented.


“Danke,” I said, the only German word I could offer back.


As I walked in a city that, I would later learn, was just down the road from my ancestors’ hometowns, in the threads of Jensens and Blankenbillers past, I knew this was a moment to cherish for as long as I’m around. That wherever I went from here, some part of me would forever be on this street, in this loop of a moment, because you can only age so far from a dream that comes true. I spent years wanting to be that girl, and at last I was, and now I always will be. That is a joy that no heartbreaking year, no apocalypse, can take away from me.



Tabitha is the author of the BT essay, “Running From The Pumpkin King” — written before the 2016 election, but published just after all our nightmares came true. On a tastier note, her debut essay collection, “Eats of Eden: A Foodior” (published by the mighty Alternating Current Press) is available for pre-order. Just a guess, but you’re going want to get this one.

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