Friday 20 January 2017

No Moo? No Problem!

I considered titling this blog post "Compelling reasons to visit the best local ice cream shop even if you don't do dairy–and even if you don't do ice cream" but that seemed a bit unwieldy.

As we are in so many other ways, we are spoiled for choice for local ice cream in the Valley.  There are soft serve ice cream stands open in summer, farm stores and shops open year round, and local brands sold in grocery stores so you can pick up a pint with your regular shopping.  I could write a post on each of them – and I just might.  If blogging about ice cream paid the bills, I'd definitely have my dream job.

I'm going to begin with Herrell's, for three reasons.  One, they are the best and we might as well start at the top!  Two, they have just completed a major renovation of their shop.  There was a soft opening end of October and the official grand reopening is coming up on Sunday, January 22, Noon-2:00pm.  Third, they have sold wonderful baked goods since the 1980s, not just as an also-ran to their ice cream, but delicious enough to stand on their own merits, and their newly renovated shop gives them enough space to display their entire line of baked treats at once and not have to rotate them.  In fact, I should do two posts on Herrell's, this one on their baked goods, and another featuring their unique ice cream.

Most ice cream shops have cookies, brownies, sometimes pies, to serve à la mode.  A few even bake them themselves.  But you probably wouldn't think to go there, rather than a proper bakery, if you were craving a chocolate chip cookie.  With Herrell's, you should.   For over 25 years, they have been putting as much effort into perfecting yummy baked goods as they have into their ice cream, with equally superior results.

Ice cream may be my favourite food, but baked goods are a close second and, as an intrepid baker myself, I am extremely picky and judgmental about every cookie and brownie I buy.  I'm lucky not to have any food sensitivities but it seems that everyone I know is either avoiding gluten or eggs or dairy (or all three!).  I have attempted to bake to accommodate various dietary restrictions, and it is always a trial to get the flavour, texture, and appearance up to par with the traditional version.  Herrell's has embraced this challenge.  Since 1993, they have sold Herrell's No-Moo dairy-free cookies and brownies.  Some products in their No-Moo line have eggs, some are vegan, and some are gluten-free.  That may sound complicated outside of the Valley, but it is necessary to cater to a variety of dietary restrictions and choices here.  It also means that, whatever your personal dietary needs, you can find a treat at Herrell's that you can enjoy, whether you decide to top it with No-Moo ice cream or devour it on its own.

Over the years, I've tried all of Herrell's baked goods, mostly à la mode at first, but I eventually found myself gravitating to Herrell's when I was just after a cookie or brownie (or, better yet, for those of us who don't want to have to choose, a brookie) because theirs were better than the ones at other local bakeries.  If they were out of the traditional version, I've always been happy to get the No-Moo version instead because they were just as tasty.  That was noteworthy to me.  There has been a tremendous improvement in dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free products in recent years, but you still wouldn't normally eat them unless you had to.  I truly shit you not when I say that at Herrell's, it doesn't make a difference.

Purely in the interest of conscientious research, of course, I ate my way through some of the Herrell's
No-Moo line, along with the traditional products for comparative purposes, to see if my anecdotal impression over the years about taste held up to further scrutiny.  (Yeah, yeah, I admit it: It was an excuse to eat lots of cookies and brownies.  You got a better research idea??)

First up, the classic chocolate chip cookie.  The No-Moo version is heavy and dense – nothing worse than picking up a light cookie – and almost molten in the centre.  It's not overly sweet, which is rare in a cookie I haven't made myself.  I don't think there is anyone on earth pickier about chocolate chip cookies than I am and these meet my high standards.

One day, I decided to take a chance on the No Moo potato chip cookie.  I imagined any cookie with potato chips in it would be crunchy and greasy and salty and I was just sceptical about that.  I was wrong; it's nothing like that at all.  It is chocolatey, with lots of tiny chips, not salty, and the potato chips are ground finely enough that they add texture but not crunch.  Just try it.

The final No Moo vegan cookie I tried was the chocolate walnut flourless.  It's made with egg whites, like a meringue, so it's gluten-free but not vegan, but it is delicious, with the slightly shiny exterior and rich interior characteristic of flourless cookies.

The last No Moo vegan treat I've sampled is the vegan black bean brownie.  Using black beans in vegan brownies to replicate texture normally created by the eggs has been a thing for awhile.  I've even tried it, with minor success.  But I was never very enthused about it.  After tasting Herrell's version, I am officially a convert.  They have great texture and flavour, with gooey chocolate chips that melt in each bite.  You would never know they were vegan or black bean if no-one told you.  Get one warmed up with ice cream on it and you will be in heaven.

Herrell's was in the vanguard with non-dairy ice cream, and also with non-dairy baked goods.  Sounds a bit odd but it actually makes sense: If you make delicious ice cream and baked goods, you want everyone to be able to enjoy them.  The taste and texture of food products for people with various food intolerances has improved exponentially, but Herrell's was doing it before it was cool, and they've put a lot of research into achieving superior flavour and texture.  If you live in the area, or are visiting, go to Herrell's.  I personally guarantee your foodgasm—and no-one is paying me to say that, I speak from personal experience and enthusiasm.

Thursday 19 January 2017

The Perfect Tree

One of my strongest Xmas memories (aside from listening to Truman Capote recite his Xmas Memory—as a child, I thought it was a woman speaking) is picking out a Xmas tree with my mother.  It always seemed like we chose the coldest night possible for this, but that was undoubtedly a matter of perception.  In my OCD way, I would have to examine every tree of suitable height on the lot before narrowing it down to the top contenders and finally making that important decision.  I never thought about the cost but I realise now it was significant to my mother.  The tree lot guys would come out of their warming trailer, smelling of beer, and offer to tie the tree to our non-existent car.  We'd each hoist an end and carry it however many blocks (the lots moved around from year to year) home, and up the stairs to our third floor apartment.  In my memory, there is always snow.  In reality, there would likely not have been.

One year, my mother decided she wanted a train to go around the tree.  She bought a large square board with a track nailed to it, in the centre of which we placed the tree stand, and began to collect Dept. 56 village components.  It was to be a Victorian English village, although the only train she could find from the period was American.  This was an anachronism only we would notice.  Amongst the minute plastic figures that one could purchase to people the village were, to our surprise, a set of nudes meant to be artist models.  Of course, we bought this & reposed them on balconies and in doorways.  You'd have to look closely at the village to notice them so I expect most guests never knew what a debauched little town it was.

After I moved away, my mother stopped celebrating Xmas.  But I didn't.  I had to be creative when I was away from the rituals and traditions, and especially the decorations, of my childhood, but I have managed to honour the facets of the season that resonate with me wherever I have lived.

Food is a crucial element.  In some countries, I have not been able to make the same treats I made at home (marshmallow fluff for fudge was not to be had in Russia or Italy or even the UK), but I learned to make saffron buns in Sweden, mince pies in Edinburgh, and king cakes in Paris.  I became a devotee of Chocolate Kimberleys in Ireland and panettone in Florence.

Music is equally as important, and I have been lucky to find live Xmas music most places I have lived.  I've been to midnight mass at Notre Dame on Xmas Eve, and seen the Nutcracker performed by a Russian ballet.  At first, I had tapes of the Xmas albums I listened to as a child.  Later, I got them on CD.  Now, I can stream endless Xmas music online.  My most rigid Xmas rule is that I listen only to Xmas music from Thanksgiving to Epiphany.  Each year, I have difficulty letting go of it come January 7th.  Like finishing up the last of the eggnog (I write this on January 18th with enough for one more eggnog latte, two if I skimp, and don't ask me how much eggnog ice cream I have stashed in the freezer), I have to make the music last a bit longer, knowing I won't get to enjoy it again until next Thanksgiving.  I've yet to be able to go cold turkey; I usually start to gradually incorporate non-Xmas music into my listening until I've weaned myself off it entirely.  When I was a kid singing in choir, we'd start rehearsing Xmas music in November, giving me an early taste that I felt privileged to have.  I realise it wouldn't be special if one listened to it all year, but it's hard to confine my favourite music to such a short period of time, one reason I am so rigid about not listening to any other type of music during that Thanksgiving-Epiphany interval.  My ex, who was Jewish, hated this ritual, but that's what headphones are for.  The big point of contention was in the car.  He'd want to listen to the Ramones, I'd want Bach's Xmas Oratorio, and we'd fight.  Next partner is going to have to acquiesce or fuck off; this is not negotiable.

Light is another reason Xmas is my favourite time of year.  Holiday lights are so heartening.  My family has a genetic tendency to depression and the dark, cold winter days are challenging.  Sun and exercise and warmth work brain chemical magic to lift my mood and they are absent in winter.  I always think Xmas comes too early.  The lights cheer me – I take them in greedily like vital nourishment – but most people take them down after New Year's.  Of course I know the history of why Xmas is celebrated near the winter solstice, but this is just the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere, with 2-3 months of cold, dark misery to endure after the Xmas lights are packed away.  We need to move Xmas to sometime around the end of February, to give us something to look forward to.  I call my lights "winter lights" rather than "holiday lights", and leave them up for the duration.  It helps—a little.

Wherever I have lived, I have made a point of buying Xmas lights.  In Russia, it turned out the lights available were not made for Russian outlets but a friend had her husband, an electrician, adapt them.  Of course I gave them to her when I left.  I love celebrating Xmas in Sweden because they take the lights very seriously.  Every street, every window, is cosily lit, warm and inviting.   It cheers me up just to think about it.

Decorations are the final component of Xmas.   Once I left home, I had to improvise what I could not afford to buy.  As a student, I strung my dorm room with lights (and illegal cranberry and pine-scented candles), and decorated my door wreath with juniper, holly, roses, and white sprigs of baby's breath standing in for snow.  Now I have all of the family ornaments and decorations, which have the most sentimental value of all my possessions.  I care for them lovingly, and treasure each antique ornament.  My favourite are the wax ornaments purchased from an Austrian bakery on the Northwest side of Chicago.  I also love the garlands, made from glass beads salvaged from a Czech factory destroyed in WWII.  I could go on but realise no-one else is likely to share my passionate love affair with my Xmas decorations.  Oh, but there is one more thing I have to mention:  I have an envelope full of Xmas cards I received or purchased years ago that I tape to the walls.  My favourite is a card from my friend Fred, a classmate in Italy, and I have some Swedish ones I also adore.  They're all outdoor scenes, with animals or gnomes, but not kitschy.  I also have some with renaissance or Pre-Raph angels and illuminated manuscripts.  They have no monetary value but they are significant treasures.

This is the first time I have lived in a house, extending my decorating sphere to the outdoors, with lights for the porch and a garland wrapped with lights for the mailbox post.  (The latter met with an accident last year about a month before I would have taken them down.  I hope this year's have better luck.)  I am limited by a lack of outdoor outlets to lights that are battery-operated, which are weaker and require a safe, dry place to stash the battery packs.  There is a house down the street that employs the see-them-from-orbit style of outdoor lights.  That's not my taste.  Across the street is a house with New England window candles and white lights on their porch and wreath.  Much classier.  If I had outlets to work with, that's more what I'd be going for.

Of course the decorating centrepiece is the tree.  I felt very grown-up the first year I had my own tree.  I didn't yet have the family ornaments, and had to improvise with straw ornaments from Sweden and pine cones and more baby's breath.  I even made a popcorn-and-cranberry garland once.  Candy canes and decorated cookies, with holes poked in the top before baking, can also be pressed into service for the tree.

At first, I got trees from a lot, albeit now tying them on top of the car for the trip home.  These were perfect, symmetrical, elegant trees, as if they were drawn by an artist for an idyllic Xmas scene.  I had one some years ago that will go down in history at the Best Tree Ever.  But, as a city girl now living in the country, I was naturally drawn to the opportunity to cut my own fresh tree.  So, I started going to a tree farm.  It is unfortunately situated on the side of a hill, so all the trees have a bad side, but they are all balsams, my traditional type from childhood, and the nice family that owns it uses a sustainable stump culture method.  It's also a lovely drive to get there.  In recent years this farm has started to bring fresh cut trees down to my local co-op on the first Saturday in December.  For practical reasons, I have started to get my tree there rather than making the journey to cut one on my own.  The selection is poor.  I'm surrounded here by many lots with perfect trees, cut before Thanksgiving, shipped down from Canada, and sold at a premium.  I tell myself I can't afford those trees, that they're not as fresh, they're not local, but it's really become a question of loyalty.  The woman from the tree farm expects me each year, has trees in mind for me, and appreciates that I always show her a photo of last year's decorated tree.  This year, I almost had to tell her I couldn't find one that would do.  It was the sorriest selection of Charlie Brown trees I had ever seen.  Each year I tell myself that once it's decorated, it will look fine, but this year I wasn't so sure.  You can be the judge:

You might have noticed that my rundown of Xmas necessities did not mention people.  Each year my parents ask me to come home for Xmas or, when I was with my ex, he wanted me to go with him to visit his (Jewish) family.  I feel guilty, but I've had to turn them both down.  No-one else's Xmas is Xmas-y enough for me.  I need the lights, the music, the food, the eggnog, the warmth, above all the control of the Xmas environment.  I prefer to host Xmas rather than visit.  &, this is where I have to take an unpopular stand:  I'd rather spend Xmas alone, in my warm house, watching Rankin-Bass Xmas specials and curling up on the sofa in front of the tree for my annual reading of "A Xmas Carol" than be with family or friends in their cold, non-Xmasy homes.

I'm sorry; this is what Xmas is about to me.  If people want to come visit, I love to have people to cook for and play games and music with.  Most years, no-one sees my tree but me.  Most years, I make a traditional Xmas feast, with all the trimmings, for myself.  I have many pet peeves but the peeviest, the one that makes me apoplectic with rage (ok, I guess that takes it beyond pet peeve status) is when people, and this happens every fucking year, tell me I shouldn't bother to have a tree if I am the only one to see it nor spend all of Xmas day cooking a feast just for myself.  There seems to be some unspoken obligation not to do much for the holidays if one is alone.  I don't understand that.  Never have, never will.  I love to have guests during the holiday season.  When I have enough local friends available, I host a Xmas party to decorate anatomically-correct gingerbread people.  I make fondue and mulled wine and bake lots of cookies.  But if everyone's busy with their own families and it happens that I am the only one to see my tree or taste the Xmas turkey and cranberry sauce, why the hell should I have less or do without because I am alone?  I don't get it, and I annually tell people who express surprise that I would have something outrageous like my own fucking Xmas tree or actual Xmas dinner to go fuck themselves.
Now January proceeds apace.  I can leave the lights up, I can still cue up Purcell's "Behold, I Bring You Glad Tidings" on Spotify, but I have to face the fact that it is now time to take down the tree and put away the decorations.  I'll do it this weekend.  I always dread it, but with the inauguration and Bishop leaving, it's already going to be a depressing weekend.  The holiday season has this buoyant the-usual-rules-are-suspended feel to it that can't last long by its very nature but leaves me bereft, always wondering how I will drag myself through the rest of winter.  I don't know what other people do.  How do they keep their spirits up?  I love the silence of snow, and the cosiness of winter, curling up on the sofa with knitting and a mug of tea or hot chocolate or mulled wine, but I also find it in many ways interminable and dispiriting.  I always need something to look forward to, and winter, once the holidays are over, does not provide that.  It's a time for discipline, New Year's resolutions for self-improvement that always involve diets and exercise and sacrifice, a time to get back to work.  Now you see why Xmas needs to be moved to the end of February.  I can't be the only one who needs something to look forward to other than mud and tax season.

Friday 6 January 2017

Mulling the Future

I keep a pot of mulled wine simmering on the stove all winter.  I used to make it for parties, enjoy the leftovers for a few days, then go back to bottled wine with dinner.  But I decided I liked the warmth and the spicy scent throughout the house.  If I'm going to have a glass of wine on a cold winter evening, why not make it mulled.  It's certainly cheaper, even if my usual plonk is the equivalent of Two Buck Chuck, and more festive.

Following on from last week's post about goals for the New Year, I can't get away from the centrality of finances.  Whoever said money can't buy happiness has never been broke.  There is only one thing money can't buy and that's immortality.  Rich people still get sick, or injured, and die.  The wealthy can pay for the best care, but Steve Jobs still died young from cancer, and I don't think Christopher Reeve had a great time after he was paralysed from the neck down.  But what money can buy is, ironically, priceless:  the peace of mind that comes from financial security.

I've never had financial security for so much as five minutes in my life and, as I mull over priorities and plans now that I have a new job, it is my number one goal.  Yes, I want a smaller ass and bigger tits, but not as much as I want smaller debt and a bigger bank balance.

I suppose there was a blissful time before I was aware that I lacked financial security, but I don't remember it.  My single mother struggled to make the rent from paycheque to paycheque and never let me forget how precarious our life was.  My grandparents helped as much as they were able but they didn't have any money either; with no savings, no investments, they struggled in their senior years on Social Security.  My mother worried obsessively about losing our apartment and becoming homeless, a worry I can relate to now that I am so behind on my own rent and utilities.  Disabled and on Social Security, she still worries about that and with good reason.  Her fixed and limited income is not enough to survive on and I am not in a position to help her.

As a well-educated snob, I associated with people who had more money than we did, which was basically everyone, without realising they looked down on us.  I used to look down on uneducated blue collar workers until I realised that most of them make more money than I ever will, and have more financial security.  I had a hillbilly friend from the South when I was 12.  She never went to college but when I caught up with her on Facebook I learned she had become an electrician.  She has a house with a pool, savings, benefits, vacations, and the kind of security my bookish but underemployed friends now envy.   Another friend of mine, college educated with a major in political science, married her high school sweetheart, a guy who dropped out of high school to work in his father's contracting business.  She's now a stay-at-home mom with her own horse farm.  Yep, I learned not to diss the blue collar set, with one major caveat:  Those friends voted for Trump.

What creates financial security?  Any combination of 3 circumstances:
  1.    Family money.  I'm not just referring to trust fund babies, although I know several of those, but people with parents who have the money to help them when they are getting started.  Perhaps family money enabled them to avoid the quagmire of student loans, helped them avoid building debt by paying a medical bill when they didn't have insurance, gave them a car or money towards living expenses or provided a down payment for their first house.
  2.    Marrying money.  It sounds crass but, as I wasn't just talking about silver spoon babies with mega rich parents above, I am not just talking about Melania Trump-style trophy wives here.  That's about as extreme an example as one can give but, on some level, all marriages are business arrangements.  They were supposed to be originally.  Now we marry nominally for love but it's still really about financial security.  For several of my friends who own houses, their spouse's parents gave them the down payment or their spouse's job provided health insurance, etc.  In fact, few of the people I know who are financially secure are single.  As a feminist I've always scoffed at marrying for money, but men do it, too.  My father did; with his health problems he'd quite literally be dead if he didn't have his wife's health insurance and her financial support for half his life now.  I stayed in a bad relationship because I feared I wouldn't be able to keep a roof over my head without my ex paying half the rent – and my current desperate situation proves that fear was justified.  My ex also had family money – I knew I could never afford my own farm but he stood to inherit money someday that would have enabled us to buy one.  And if we'd succeeded in having kids, I knew his parents would never let their grandkids starve.  He was a horrible person, but women are very practical.
  3.    Earning money yourself.  This is how I always assumed I'd achieve financial security since it didn't have the stigma of inheriting or marrying it – and since I didn't have either of the other two as options.  I could argue that it was tough for a single woman starting out with student loans and credit card debt (medical bills from when my first jobs out of school didn't provide health insurance, which occurred well before the days when you could stay on your parents' insurance) but that would be both pathetic and disingenuous.  I have no-one to blame but myself for choosing travel and grad school, and more grad school, and more travel, rather than settling into some sort of lucrative career path.  True, I was stymied by my OCD/procrastination.  If I hadn't had that hindrance, I might have gotten a tenure-track teaching job and some stability.  But everyone has issues and most people work and make money despite them.  I tried very hard to overcome mine and failed but that's no excuse not to have made better choices all along.
So, where does that leave me today?  First, I need to define what constitutes financial stability.  Considering I've never experienced it, I'm not sure what it looks like, let alone feels like.  So, the first criterion is a change in attitude.  The extreme debt I carry and the precariousness of juggling bills each month, of living in my overdraft and on credit, would seem like an unbearable crisis situation to a normal person but I have always lived this way.  I read articles that refer in hushed tones (yes, sometimes the written word can have a volume) to those poor people who live from paycheque to paycheque, or who don't pay off their credit card balance in full each month, or who don't have savings or assets, as some sort of anomaly.  But it's normal for me.  A cause of constant, health-and-energy-sapping stress, but normal.  And that is actually going to be the hardest problem to overcome.  For example:  I have a $7K overdraft on my checking account.  I haven't been in the black in well over a decade.  So, when I see my balance is -$6,500, I don't process that as debt, I see that I have $500 at my disposal.  In other words, since I have always lived on credit, credit to me is money to spend, whether on essentials or frivolous things.

Let's spend a minute on frivolous things.  There was a great article posted online some years ago by a guy who was once poor explaining why poor people seem to blow windfalls, something inexplicable to their betters with financial security.  The gist of it was that you don't expect the good fortune to continue long enough to make a difference in your overall situation so you figure you might as well do something fun whilst you can.  It takes the form of a depressing conviction that you are never going to dig your way out of debt and life is short.  People who have a goal, like paying off a single loan or saving for a down payment on a house, can find the will power for self-denial by telling themselves rationally that short-term sacrifice will lead to long-term gain.  But I tend to see my situation, equally rationally, as permanent, and to feel that I am getting older and, if I keep putting off things, I will still die in debt but never have lived.  If you haven't had close to 25 years of constant calls and letters from collection agencies, of lawsuits and judgments, of paying the gas bill one month and the electric bill the next, of most of your payments going toward interest that does not actually lower your balance, of thinking you were making headway on one debt and then losing an income source or having a major car repair, you won't understand what seems like short-term thinking that only makes the long-term situation worse.  Think of it this way: if you can tell yourself there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you can make those short-term sacrifices.  But if you are drowning in debt with no realistic way of ever paying it off with any job you could plausibly get, there is no light, the tunnel goes on forever, and you can't put off living indefinitely.

The second challenge to formulating a concept of financial security is making it realistic.  Ideally, financial security is having enough money that you don't have to work and have no restrictions on what you can do.  But that takes being a billionaire to achieve.  A more modest notion of financial security might comprise being debt-free and having 6 months worth of living expenses in a savings account.  But paying off my student loans is not realistic so being totally debt-free is not an option.  It's also problematic to start a savings account when you are trying to pay off high-interest credit card debt.  I've always told myself I'd start saving the minute I pay off my last credit card but that minute has never arrived.

Prioritising isn't difficult because it's obvious in which order debts must be paid:
Rent, utilities, high-interest credit cards first then lower interest, then overdraft, then start saving.  Student loans aren't on the list because, with no realistic way to ever pay them off, any money spent on them is just flushed down the toilet.  The living-one's-life-before-it's-too-late part complicates things.  I have a horse who has reached the age where he needs to be in full-time training, I want him to be closer to me, and he needs other things besides training that are expensive, like a saddle and insurance; I have a second horse I also love and want for my own, and I have some travel and fitness goals for the year, among other priorities.  I also need to help my mother.

I know that I cannot possibly earn my way to financial stability, that I have to swallow my pride and marry money.  But that's easier said than done.  No rich man wants a 47-year-old wife when he can score a 30-year-old or even 25 if he's not too repulsive.  So far, on the dating scene, I'm pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest I am receiving but the guys in my age range who are single and not too fucked up are usually looking for someone with money themselves.  I have had several encounters with guys who seemed like they might be suitable until it became clear that they were not financially secure themselves.

Above all, what I need most is to keep my spirits up, to never despair or sink into depression.  The winter after the holidays is dark and dreary; it feels like spring will never come.  And don't get me started on the impending political catastrophe.  What I need to have the strength of will to do is keep this job and just chip away at the debt as the paycheques come in, without losing heart at the relentless immensity of the task, and create concrete things to look forward to along the way that will lift my spirits and make me feel like I am living life without setting me back financially.

I think I will have a mug of mulled wine now.

Sunday 1 January 2017

Will 2017 trump 2016?

Perhaps I should rephrase that.

Things that sucked about 2016:

1)   The election.

The rest are in no particular order:

2)   Alan Rickman's death
3)   An annoying back problem progressing to a chronic, debilitating, activity-circumscribing back problem
4)   Losing my job in August
5)   Reaching the limits of my credit, for the first time in my life, so I am without recourse in an emergency.  I'm screwed if my car needs repair (which it does frequently, as it is over 25 years old) or my horse needs vet care (as he did, & I can't pay that bill).
6)   Biological clock ticking increasingly loudly & haven't found suitable baby daddy yet.  Would use sperm donor but see above.
7)   Mom no longer able to cope on her own.  Knew this was coming eventually, but hoped I'd be in a financial position to help.
8)   Dad has prostate cancer.  His brother's had it for awhile & it has metastasised to his bones and other organs.
9)   My closest local friend moved away.
10)  The movement toward censorship, within academia especially, but elsewhere, too, grew alarmingly.

11)  Due to Rethug obstruction, Obama hasn't been able to appoint a replacement for Scalia to the Court.
12) A late, but significant, addition to this list was Silas colicking on Xmas Eve.

But 2016 wasn't all bad.  It had its share of highlights:

1)   Scalia died.  It's considered crass to celebrate anyone's death but I would have been as happy if he'd retired.  He didn't have to be six feet under, just miles from the bench.
2)   Silas & Bishop were a source of joy, and I learned to long-line, a skill I wasn't sure I'd ever have the confidence to acquire.
3)   A new Harry Potter movie was released.
4)   Fell in love with an old friend.  If anyone had told me that it's possible to fall in love with someone you've known for 25 years, I wouldn't have believed it. But it was the full cliché: the cartoon anvil hitting you over the head; all the song lyrics suddenly making sense.
5)   Ran NYC Marathon
6)   Landlord finally towed decrepit farm equipment from garage so, for first time in 14 years, I don't have to dig my car out after every snowfall or scrape ice off on cold mornings.
7)   Started practicing music again, after far too long a hiatus.

I've always been someone who needs concrete goals – e.g., Can't just say I am going to start running regularly; I need to sign up for a specific race and work towards it methodically.  So, what's on the docket for 2017?

1)   Get a job.  Duh.
2)   Pay off all my credit card debt
3)   Move Silas closer & sit on him for the first time (yes, he'll be 4 on June 1!)
4)   Buy Bishop so he's really, wholly, officially mine
5)   Get down to ideal weight & up to ideal fitness
6)   Regain enough proficiency with music to begin performing again by next Xmas
7)   Oddly enough, my running plans do not include racing this year, with the exception of the Kingdom Run.   It was important for me to get back out there in 2016 but it's now counterproductive to race again unless I increase my pace to under a 10 minute mile.  Only if I achieve that goal will I sign up for another race.
8)   Date aggressively to find a suitable partner who wants to have kids (right away)
9)   Get at least 12 pieces of paid freelance writing published – that's only one a month, but still a challenge as so few outlets pay even a token amount now
10) Create a burlesque routine (already have song picked out) & get my fat ass on that stage
11) Keep reminding myself that time is short & it's flying by so seize every opportunity
12) Do everything in my power to ensure that, whenever President Trump enters a room, the band plays the Benny Hill theme rather than "Hail to the Chief".