On Two Thousand Eighteen.

I am Irish, not Norwegian. But Norwegian meatballs were Megan’s specialty. She made them often enough during my childhood that I associate them with her, my eldest sister, and with winter. Standing at the stove, snow three-feet deep outside muffling the sounds inside, illuminating the house the way only a freshly snowed-on day can do. Her auburn hair halfway down her back, mixing in the eggs and nutmeg, rolling the mixture into balls, setting them methodically into the cast iron skillet with Nat King Cole singing carols in the background.

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Homemade crème fraîche made with fresh, local dairy. December 24, 2018.

I made my own Norwegian dish this Christmas, and Nat King Cole may or may not have been singing Christmas carols in the background. A delicious beef stew made with mixed mushrooms, crème fraîche, nutmeg, and juniper berries, from a recipe I found in Sweet Paul magazine. Purchased at the Mazama Country Store last week while we were at the Rolling Huts. Glanced through on the bed against the wall next to the fire while I pondered the year that just was, the year which emphasized these things for me:

  1. Dogs are people, too. For real.

Plus je connais les hommes, mieux j’aime les chiens. — Anonymous

The vein in Oslo’s hind leg as the needle went in while he slept soundly in his leather chair. The loll of Mies’s head as Will lifted his limp body off the grass to place him in the car for the very last time. These are two images that when, recalled to memory, elicit rolling tears.

In an effort to embrace a growth mindset and stretch myself, I embarked on an informal 360-degree review this year at work, asking a few trusted colleagues for candid, unvarnished feedback about how I’m perceived and the single most thing I could improve to be more effective. Part of what I heard was that I can be dark and negative at times. Which is true: I am by nature a dark, cynical, sarcastic person, not prone to sentimentality and with a low tolerance for bullshit. But when I returned with this feedback to dissect it so I might improve, I asked myself why? Why am I dark when I’m dark? Why am I negative and caustic? There are many reasons for this which I won’t delve into here, but this year, these traits may have been pronounced for me in part because we lost Mies in July, only 11 months after losing Oslo. In less than one year, I lost both of my beloved Weimaraners. Dogs who were as meaningful to me as any other member of my immediate family, if not more so. Had these losses been my children instead of my dogs, or Bria or Will, undoubtedly people would have empathized more readily, acknowledging that my mental state was a manifestation of the grieving process, rather than assuming that my being negative was simply because I could.

In fact, dogs are more than people. Rest in peace, my beautiful two.

See also: In praise of cynicism, and Don’t Get Defensive: Communication Tips for the Vigilant. Additionally, not to mention the added angst and anger elicited by #metoo which women have been managing the past two years. I am not the only one.

2. Third time’s a charm.

Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold. — Zelda Fitzgerald

Only in the our case, the first and second times were charms, too. Fredrick is sitting next to me on the couch, much the way Oslo used to, but then again, not. Because dogs are like people. Oslo’s uncle and Mies’s brother, he is a wonderful dog, the tallest of the three, and every bit as handsome. He is also every bit himself, running into his harness when it’s time to go out where Oslo and Mies always ran and hid from theirs. Barking at the door to go outside where Mies rang the bells and Oslo pawed and stared. Prancing out of the kitchen carrying his carrot like a bone, where Oslo or Mies would have dropped it on the floor, looked at me with disdain, then walked away. His pale pink collar a case study in color theory, in lovely contrast with his sandy grey. 2018 was so much brighter with him in it.

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Fredrick near the river behind the Rolling Huts. Mazama, WA. December 22, 2018.

3. Vulnerability is in.

I used to think the way to be strong was to be tough, I used to think that to be independent was to not need anyone. But she’s taught me that the more vulnerable you are and the softer you are and the more you allow people into your life and into your heart, the happier you are and the more valuable you are to other people. — Portia de Rossi on her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres

I struggled with this one every day in 2018. Being vulnerable has never come easily for me because of my childhood. But I am trying, using various methods (see #1). I am also trying, specifically, to be more vulnerable with women. I have spent my entire career in male dominated fields which leaves me feeling awkward in groups of females. So in 2019, I’ll spend more time in the company of girls. And more time with wonderful people we’ve met as we continue to build Bellflower: our friends Radhika and Varun from Third Culture Coffee; Blas, Stephanie, and Lee from Fulcrum Coffee; and hopefully people in Seattle’s culinary scene with whom we’ve made promising connections and good things with this year.

See this: What To Do If You’re Having a Hard Time Being Vulnerable in a Relationship

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I love this picture of Will taken in August. Another human with whom I also struggle to be vulnerable.

4. My body is good to me.

To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself. –Simone de Beauvoir

I wore “099” on my back that day. The day I participated in my first competitive sports event since I was in high school. I wore the white paper slip with big, black, sans-serif letters pinned to the high visibility pink of my base layer, sitting in the bow seat of an eight-seat sweep. This year, I started rowing with the Lake Washington Rowing Club’s evening league, where I am inspired, challenged, and cheered on by my rowing partners 2–3 times per week. And where I am realizing that I should –we all should– be good to our bodies. Take care of them and nurture them and exercise them and feed them the best possible food we can afford. For they are good to us. Think, just for a moment, all the wonderful things your body does for you. Then, treat it accordingly. Push it, stretch it, challenge it, bend it, thank it and above all, be kind to it.

See also: On Building a Better Athlete

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Competing in the Row for the Cure on the Fremont Cut. September, 2018.

5. I love all things Scandinavian.

The old saying ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ remains true, and we believe that it is preferable in the long run to buy an object that functions well because it has been carefully and painstakingly designed, even if it is a little more expensive. — Tools for Living: A Sourcebook of Iconic Design for the Home

I don’t need any more things. I don’t need any more shoes or clothes or books or kitchen tools or ceramic vessels. But sometimes, I want them. And when I do, it is increasingly because they are designed by a Finn or a Dane or a Swede or a Norwegian. I want them because a beautiful, useful object is human intelligence, creativity, patience, skill, and poetry writ in physical form and surrounding myself with well-designed things renews my hope in humanity. Some of my favorite Scandinavian designs come from Swix, Livid, Stutterheim, Glerups, Ittala, Elfa, and Scandinavian Specialties in Ballard, where I stock up on Swedish dishcloths. Not to mention salmiakki.

To read: Salty Tooth: My journey to the dark heart of salmiakki — the uniquely savory, deeply strange licorice that Finland just can’t quit.

6. To parent is to dance.

I would watch this lion for hours as he’d take those great padding steps four times back and across the cage. Finally, I learned to walk that way. I learned from the lion the inevitability of return, the shifting of one’s body. The shift of the weight is one key aspect of that technique, that manner of movement.– Martha Graham

Colorado’s Independence Pass between Leadville and Aspen is one of the most dangerous roadways in the world. I didn’t realize this until I researched it after Seth drove us over it during our trip to the Centennial State this fall when we toured the mountain towns of my childhood. The Dodge minivan nearly brushing the side of the granite, snowy mountain. 12,000 feet, one lane, no guardrails, and heavy wet snow just starting to stick to the hairpins in front of us.

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Seth visiting this spring for a shared birthday cake with Bria. March 2018.

Seth moved back to Seattle this fall after 10 years in Anchorage. He is an adult for over a decade now, with views and opinions all his own, shaped by people and places of which I have never had an influence. He is intellectually curious like me, an accomplished tango dancer, lover of Latin culture, and deeply interested in politics and society. He has strong opinions on many things. Opinions I don’t always share. But I learned important things from my son (and daughter) this year: 1). the more you really listen to others and the less you defend yourself, the fewer your stereotypes will be; 2). to parent is to dance, especially as all involved grow older. Knowing when to shift the body and weight of your own personal desires and inclinations to let your children, now adults, take the lead while you follow, is a modern dance in and of itself. One that I anticipate always perfecting.

7. Design runs in the family.

When used in excess, dark colors can seem brooding, oppressive, and heavy. However, they add depth and substance in small species and perspective in large ones. Dark colors are invaluable as a foil to fiery bedding and, by the strength of their contrast, lend luminosity to paler tones. –James Armitage, A Portable Latin for Gardeners

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Michaela, 28, at Bar Ferdinand in Chophouse Row. Summer, 2018.

Michaela’s makeup palettes are a study in color theory and I am hard-pressed to know how to apply any of them as expertly as she does. My normal eye lid enhancing routine is sometimes eyeliner but more often just a swoosh of a single eye shadow color. As she finishes her master’s esthetician studies, I read through this gardening book Will gave me for my birthday, thinking about seedlings and flowers and decay followed by spring and how far she’s come. An abusive relationship receding behind her, she is creating calm stability and a future for herself and Bria. Her past darknesses lending their own special luminosity to her present. She is a designer like me, only her interfaces are human rather than digital ones; she uses color, light, and space to enhance the human face. And me. She is honest with me like no one else, pointing out flaws in myself which I am at the same time grateful for / in denial of. To parent is also to grow.

See also: My niece, Rosa, is also a talented illustrator.

8. Quality over quantity.

‘Are we going to be friends forever?’ asked Piglet. ‘Even longer,’ Pooh answered. — A.A. Milne

I don’t have a lot of close friends, female or otherwise. But I have Laura. Who introduced me to the Marco Polo app this year, technology which has brought me great pleasure. We have been friends for 20+ years and don’t often see each other in real life because…REAL LIFE. But this app helps close the gap. Here’s to more laughs in 2019, Lolo. Digitally or otherwise. xoxo.

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My favorite picture of Laura and me. At Via Tribunali on Queen Anne. September 25, 2015.

9. In Memorium

In addition to losing Mies in July, we lost two additional members of our combined families this year. Will’s brother-in-law, George McCeney, in September, and my niece, Michelle Lee Neylan-Henderson in October. Rest in peace. Wherever and however you are, you are still part of us.

Other things I loved/discovered in 2018:

I took my first trip to Africa this year. In November I went to Dakar, Sénégal for a work conference on STEM education for girls, using my French in a professional capacity for the first time ever.

Hugo House grand opening.

Earth rise.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Darkest Hour

Green Book

Free Solo

My favorite podcast this year: Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Cross-country skiing with Bria.

“I think people would live a bit longer if they didn’t know how old they were. Age puts restrictions on things.” — Karl Pilkington

“It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets.” — Mr. Rogers

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” — George R. R. Martin.

Written by

Emoting, frustrated human. Two sourdough starters in fridge. I don’t write nearly as much as I want to. / @neylano

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