A year ago today I stepped out of a work presentation and answered a call from one of Michiel’s friends, and my world shattered into tiny painful pieces.

Last night, a group of us gathered around our screens to share happy stories and old photos of our friend. He is still so deeply missed. After the call ended, which was way past my bedtime because everyone else was a few time zones away, I kept thinking about the people on the call.

We all speak often about the way Michiel was a connector—not only the way he connected outsiders like me to his group of friends, but really, their entire group was formed because of the ways Michiel brought them together. It’s one of the more poignant things they share—that they are this big and happy group of loving friends because of him.

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” has come to my mind often this year. I wish that Michiel could, like George Bailey, have seen the ways his life changed so many other lives for the better. Like the movie character, I wish that Michiel could see the impact he made—even as a normal, innately flawed human—just by doing simple things like loving people and bringing them together. In that, he left an indelible legacy.

I’ve found this year that it’s hard to find ways to fully honor someone’s memory. I read a quote recently though that said “Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone.” And I really think that his capacity for arms-wide-open loving people and connecting them may have been the thing I loved most about Michiel.

So I think that’s one way I honor his legacy—by working to genuinely care for people people and bring them together the way Michiel would have done—because in moments like last night’s call I can see all the beautiful results of that kind of connection. And, in those moments, I know that the impact of his love will outlive us all.

Top 5: Books + TV

I’m really not sure how a person could have survived 2020 without books and TV. They were my vacations and companions in a year where those were both in short supply.

I’ve loved seeing other people’s end-of-year round-ups because they’ve given me lots of ideas for future reads and views. I read dozens of books this year, but these five novels stood out. They had memorable and unique plots (aside from The Guest List, which is a very similar plot to Foley’s other book, The Hunting Party, but both were good). The Vanishing Half and Daisy Jones gave me rich images of a place in time, while His Only Wife and American Dirt painted pictures of other countries and cultures. Most of all though, these were stories you wanted to get lost in and felt a little sad when they were over.

I was so late to the game on Schitt’s Creek, but I could not have loved this show more. If you’re like me and not really feeling it the first few episodes, push through—it gets SO good. Everyone loved The Queen’s Gambit, so that was an obvious pick. And I know there are mixed feelings on The Undoing (I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending), but if it’s a rainy, cold weekend, you can’t go wrong with this show paired with some wine and popcorn. Yellowstone was my obsession of the year—Beth Dutton may be my favorite television character ever. And finally, with no apologies for including a teen drama, Outer Banks. This was like The OC-meets-The Goonies and just so fun to watch.

It Was A Good Year

It was a good year. I ate s’mores around a campfire. Went on countless hikes with my dad. Started to build my dream home. Had lunch with a friend by a pool in Southern California. Voted in a better future. Watched the sun rise over a river. Watched it set over a marsh. Went to exactly one concert. Drank wine in a hot tub in the woods on a cold day. Spent an afternoon on a boat. Spent a night in a casino. Took a long morning bike ride with an old friend. Drank coffee on my grandmother’s screened porch. Took a nap in a hammock. Caught a crab. Hiked barefoot to a waterfall. Drank fancy champagne by a pool in the Bahamas. Went to exactly one live theater performance. Saw two bald eagles in the wild. Built a sandcastle with my nephew. Explored my new home town. Spent countless and priceless hours with my parents and my dogs. Watched fireflies from my porch. Sipped through a sunny afternoon at Charlottesville vineyards. Worked on a novel. Created a lakeside bohemian picnic for friends. Went for a long walk with my brother. Read more than 50 books. Ate cheese with friends by the Blueridge Parkway. Watched a summer thunderstorm roll in from a rocking chair on the porch. Served a shrimp boil around a big table of friends. Swam in the Atlantic, saw the Pacific. Spent more time outside than any other year of my adult life. Ate barbecued ribs and watched fireworks on the Fourth of July. Joined a book club. Went cowboy boot and hat shopping in Austin. Had breakfast on a balcony overlooking the ocean. Spent a few sunny afternoons in beer gardens. Carefully celebrated birthdays of friends and family. Went on long walks in the woods with my dogs. Went on long walks around Charlotte with my friends. Stayed up too late finishing puzzles. Perfected my extra dirty martini recipe. Watched Christmas movies in front of a fire. Picked wild blackberries and blueberries from the garden to make fruit pies. Had dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Took a fall bike ride through colorful leaves. Went to exactly one art museum. Got caught in the rain on a walk on the beach. It was a good year.

Over Thanksgiving I contracted a terrible case of poison ivy all over my face. (Because the year is 2020 and “horrific boils and lesions” was the last thing on my Old Testament Level Occurrences Bingo card.)

Anyway, after a massive dose of steroids (which I now feel certain are going to kill me because they’ve wiped out my immune system… in a global pandemic), my face looks less like I’ve been punched. However, where the poison ivy once was, the skin is now slightly rough and dry and you can see a faint red tinge. I need that skin to shed, but I have to patiently wait for it to do it on its own so it doesn’t scar. (And apply ample moisturizer.)

I share this because it’s made me start thinking a lot about skin shedding. Wait. Don’t leave yet. I promise this entry is getting less gross. You know how they say that every seven or so years, all of our old cells have essentially been replaced by new ones? We’ve shed the old and become the new? That’s what I’m thinking about.

As I watch the news, I keep thinking that the last time we were in the months between a Presidential election and inauguration, I spent Thanksgiving with Michiel and my brother and his pregnant wife. Now, Michiel is gone and my nephew is almost four. I have photos from that Christmas with Michiel, Rosie, and Pawley in my cozy little bungalow. My little team. All gone.

And I don’t feel like I could possibly be the same person who was in those photos or gathered around that Thanksgiving table. Too much has been lost and too much has changed. So I keep thinking that my cells moved extra fast. I’ve already shed the old ones and am the new being. But it feels a little raw—like the red skin on my face—like I need to keep being patient and give it time to heal.

Ok, I’m going to take this already slightly overwrought metaphor one step further. Bear with me.

The moisturizer is one of the most important things for my face right now. I really can’t apply too much. I’m lathering on Kiehl’s like it’s water. It’s the same thing with my own mental self-care. In this crazy world right now, there’s no such thing as doing too much to take care of yourself—whatever that looks like for you. For me, this is a lot of walks with Winston, cooking good food and reading good books, and slowly starting to plan post-vaccine travel.

I know that this season is hard for a lot of us—and this year it’s especially hard not to notice empty seats at the table or missing traditions. If you’re like me, and it feels like your skin/soul is still a little raw right now, this is me telling you that you have permission do the things that make you feel good. Time will ultimately heal it. But while we wait, keep lathering on that moisturizer.

Three Reasons I’m Voting for Biden

This isn’t a political blog. You’ll note that the last entry was primarily about a bourbon cocktail. But this is a political time and because this is my tiny corner of the internet where I (over)share my thoughts, I wanted to share a few about the upcoming election.

I’ve read that 90% of America already knows exactly who they’ll be voting for on Nov. 3. And while I think it’s highly unlikely anyone from that remaining ten percent will stumble across this space and suddenly have an epiphany, stranger things have happened. So, here are my thoughts:

First, I don’t like the idea of one-issue voters—like “I’m voting for Trump because he’ll nominate conservative Justices who will reverse Roe v. Wade.” However, in the insanity of the last four years, it’s so hard not to let the endless news cycle of Trump’s latest tweets (California is going to hell!) or gaffes (inject bleach?) dilute the really important things. So, I’ve chosen three primary reasons that Biden—and House and Senate Democrats—have my vote in November.

America Should Be a Refuge: Since Trump took office he has done everything possible to shut down our borders—not only from the “bad hombres,” as he says, but from families and children from around the world who sought freedom and safety in the United States.

Under Obama, the U.S. admitted 130,000 refugees each year. Trump immediately slashed that number and has continued to go lower each year. This year, the U.S. admitted only 10,800 refugees. As an American, I am so ashamed of that number. (This, by the way, doesn’t even account for the cuts in regular immigrants and asylum seekers—this is strictly refugees, people vetted by the United Nations and known to be fleeing oppression and war.)

Historically, America led the world in refugee resettlement. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” But that took a sharp decline in 2017 and today numerous other countries, including our northern neighbor Canada, resettle more refugees than us.

Biden has said that if he is elected President, he will increase our 2021 cap to 125,000 refugees on his first day in office. That’s more than 100,000 men, women, and children whose lives will be changed, and often saved, because we saw them “as strangers and invited them in.”

America Should Not Betray its Allies: The Kurds, an ethnic group with no actual country, had long been a strong ally for the United States in the Middle East. They saw themselves as a persecuted minority that stood up for American values in the region. In Syria, we were providing their forces with direct assistance to fight ISIS.

However, in 2019, Turkey, which considers the Kurds a terrorist group, wanted U.S. forces to leave the region so that they could launch an offensive on Syria—and subsequently, the Kurds. And so we did. Trump suddenly ordered 2,000 U.S. troops to come home and left a vacuum in the region, prolonging the violent civil war and leaving our allies in a vulnerable position they couldn’t have imagined under any other American administration. (The initial Turkish offensive alone displaced more than 130,000 people.)

Putting aside all of the strategic and political ramifications (who wants to be the ally of a country that would do that?), America abandoned its friends in their hour of need. I want leadership with the kind of moral compass that understands that cannot be done.

America Should Not Put Children in Cages: There’s a line that I couldn’t have imagined being a real thing before 2016.

The Trump administration’s family separation policy in 2017-2018 may be one of the most disgusting moments in recent American history. Separating children—sometimes as young as toddlers—from their parents at the border was barbaric.

The administration ultimately took 4,368 children with no plans in place to reunite them with their families. I know almost nothing about child trauma, but I know that this is horrific—both for the children and their parents. These weren’t criminals. These were desperate parents seeking a better life for themselves and their families. And instead we took their children with no plans to return them. That’s kidnapping.

Unfortunately, even in four years it will be difficult for Biden to undo all of the damage Trump has done to our immigration system. But he has said that if elected he is “going to end Trump’s assault on the dignity of immigrant communities. We’re going to restore our moral standing in the world and our historic role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers.”

If you’ve made it this far in this little manifesto, thanks for reading. Those are my three major deciding factors. But I have about 300 more, so if you need convincing, just let me know. Whatever you do, go vote.

Fall isn’t my favorite season—spring and summer win every time on that count—but I’m partial to fall food and drinks. There’s something about warm and earthy flavors that I really love. Fall dishes aren’t the ultimate comfort foods of winter yet. They still include the fresh herbs and vegetables of warmer weather—but with an extra serving of cozy.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few of my favorites this fall. The cocktail above is a boozy bourbon drink that’s cut by the sweetness of honey and the fragrance of rosemary. Here’s the recipe for what I think of as a Honey Rosemary Old-Fashioned:

Mix three ounces of bourbon (Woodford Reserve is always my favorite) with one tablespoon of rosemary simple syrup (boil equal parts water and sugar and steep in fresh rosemary to create this syrup), one tablespoon of honey, and three dashes of angostura bitters. Shake over ice (I like to let a little bit of the ice melt into it because it cuts the sweetness of the syrup and the burn of the bourbon a bit). Pour over ice and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Fall salads get to be so much more hearty than their warm weather counterparts. This one has become a staple for me this fall.

Start with a base of chopped kale and toss with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and salt. Let rest for about 15 minutes. Top with warm quinoa (I’m currently obsessed with the ease of the steamable bags of this), roasted butternut squash (I roast cubes of this tossed in olive oil and balsamic for approximately 45 minutes at 350), sautéed red onions, dried cranberries, dried pecans, and burrata cheese. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and enjoy. (Ideally with that Honey Rosemary Old-Fashioned to wash it down.)