2018 in Review
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
I believe a given year will hold as much as you fill it with. It's almost ridiculous to hope to draw a single, simple conclusion from the span of an entire orbit around the sun, but I do think you can look back and reflect on whether, for the most part, you were able to live a life aligned with your values. In other words, a life of intention, that ever nebulous concept. Whether it's taking charge of things I can control or the way that I process, react to, and learn from those which I cannot, I like to reflect on the way in which I moved through the world over the course of the year through all of its ups and downs and plateaus.
This post journals some personal highlights listed by month. If looking ahead is more your speed, may I suggest another kind of list that I recently enjoyed reading: 11 Ways to Be a Better Person in 2019 from the New York Times.
In January I helped plan a bachelorette party in Austin, TX and spent a fun girls' weekend in a new place, celebrating an old friend. Wedding content still going strong in my mind and on my social media feeds, it was a fun event to participate in and help in a small way to organize.
We finalized the pictures for our own wedding album this month as well, sorting through over 1,400 pictures to select just a few dozen. The final product is absolutely gorgeous, bound in navy leather and embossed with the stamp we'd used for our wedding Save the Dates.
I got plenty of use out of my new Snuggie which I'd received for Christmas as it was a very cold January with plenty of snow and opportunities to snuggle on the couch.
We did venture out, however, one memorable meal being Olmsted in Brooklyn, where we finished dinner with DIY s'mores out in the heated garden, with thick tartan wool blankets and string lights all to ourselves.
By this time I'd been suffering from what I thought were brand new, moderately violent seafood allergies for a couple of months beginning in November 2017. It devastated me to think that I might have to avoid seafood going forward. My heart especially ached because I felt that so many of my shared experiences and favorite memories with my husband, particularly when traveling, involve seafood (Lisbon! Wildair tuna toast! Most Japanese food! The Clam Bar out in Montauk! OYSTERS!), and I started to grieve this element of our bond that I thought I might never experience with him again and all of those future memories we now wouldn't be able to create around food.
At the Olmsted meal, we were trying to make an occasion out of my trying seafood again after a 30 day hiatus. Alas, I broke out in hives all over not too much later that night, and my night ended with a Benadryl and an early bedtime, feeling kind of scared and pretty disappointed.
February is always a festive time despite the cold northeast weather with several family birthdays (including mine) and, most years, the lunar new year. There's a Chinese tradition of exchanging red envelopes on New Years, where married members of the family give hong baos containing a symbolic amount of cash to unmarried members, and this year was our first on the side that gives.
This was the month in which the M&m Bamboo Brush collection debuted its first piece. It's a collection made in collaboration with my dad, who dabbles in traditional Chinese ink paintings and calligraphy. Each piece is hand-formed by me from porcelain and painted by him using black underglaze, then sealed with a clear overglaze. We've finished only a couple of pieces since then. They are few and far between, with many lost to the transport between my apartment and my parents' place. It's something I plan to continue with him. Each piece is so special to me, and I'm really proud to be able to share his art.
I turned 31 this year. Long ago I'd made a 31 before 31 list, and looking back on all that I've done to work toward those goals, completing many of them, was such a rewarding feeling.
February was otherwise full of couch hangs and cuddly naps at home, the exact best way to pass the mid-winter.
The frequency of my studio visits picked up in March, and after one Saturday afternoon there, my husband met me in Manhattan for a date night. This was such a fun evening that stretched into a late night where we walked around and had one drink and/or one dish to eat at multiple locations, making our way from the Flatiron District through Greenwich Village and down to SoHo. This format is exactly how we like to explore new cities so it was really wonderful to come out of winter hibernation and reacquaint ourselves with our own.
My sister started her wheel lessons at my studio, which made me so happy. She continues to be a studio member today and I love having this extra channel through which to connect and hang with her. We try our best to coordinate but more often than not we just bump into each other for very quick catchups as she's leaving and I'm getting in. I love those few minutes of face time though, and hope she'll continue with her own pottery practice.
I added a second iteration of beauty kits to my shop. Bigger and made with chestnut clay this time. These are face mask mixing bowls with matching little mixing spatulas. A cousin commented that they look like coconuts and thus they were named Coco Bowls. This product was developed at a time in the year when I was really trying to pay more attention to my skincare routine, having officially joined the early 30's club the prior month. I use one myself and still make them for my shop today.
We went to Washington DC for the wedding whose bride's bachelorette had been in Austin in January. She's a dear friend from back in college, and it was so great to see and catch up with this friend group in the gorgeous new District Winery, opened by the same folks behind Brooklyn Winery. It was a quick visit but it happened to coincide with the March for Our Lives so we got to go and see the crowds of people who'd gathered. It was invigorating and uplifting to be around people who are so passionate for causes I believe in, and though we only saw the tail end, I'm really glad that we were able to find ourselves amongst individuals who decided to get involved.
Winter 2017 didn't go quietly. We got our last snow in NYC on April 2nd. I'd been making myself hot cocoa at the office as a comfort ritual all through the winter. This day was another reason to do so.
Despite that, I still loved April because SEAFOOD! Throughout the winter, I took many trips to a local general physician and had many visits with an allergist; my test results were still drawing a blank. My panels found that I'm allergic to cockroaches and mildly allergic to cats and several pollens, but provided no answers as to why I was breaking out into hot hives, getting completely congested, and once even had my eyes begin to swell shut after seafood. The primary care physician said to me "Mary, you're so allergic" to something, but what??
Toward the end of February, I made a last ditch appointment with my long-time primary care physician downtown for a third opinion. I brought with me logs of when I'd had reactions and what I'd eaten. I brought dozens of pictures on my phone from each time I broke out into hives. I realized afterward that I'd been feeling really alone in this experience because I'd felt that the doctors weren't taking me seriously when I relayed my symptoms. But I didn't need to show the evidence I'd collected to my doctor. He believed me immediately, and validated my complaints. He posited that I'd eaten seafood that had spoiled somewhat, which releases toxins that can behave like histamine, causing my gut flora to be all messed up and to treat similar proteins with an inflammatory response.
He told me that the gut biome is still a relatively unknown part of medicine, and that it made sense to him that these "allergies" weren't showing up in tests. He wrote out a regimen to "reset" my intestinal flora. After following it for five weeks, I went to Lilia in Williamsburg for dinner on April 7th, where I was able to enjoy their amazing baked clams with no adverse reactions afterward!
I have almost shared this regimen here multiple times over the course of this year, each time deleting the post because I wasn't sure if I was comfortable sharing medical advice. But this is what I lived through, and if it's information that will help inform someone else as part of the conversation with their doctor, then perhaps it can be valuable. PLEASE NOTE that I am sharing only my personal experience that I settled on after working closely with a healthcare professional. While it worked for me, please do not use the below information in the place of medical advice you can obtain from a licensed MD.
Start with a laxative and a 24 hour fast
Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar daily
Fiber daily (I used organic acacia fiber)
Activated charcoal pills 3x daily
Probiotics 2x daily
No seafood (I also cut down on gluten because toward the end I'd also started to react to beer and pasta)
Follow for 4-6 weeks
My doctor had told me that there was a chance that my body had just learned to react to seafood, that it wouldn't work. The hope was to clear my gut of any food and toxins and then spend time replenishing diverse good bacteria before trying seafood again. It worked for me, and I cannot tell you how grateful I was for A) the fact that my doctor believed me, and B) that I finally had theory that made sense and therefore made me feel less mystified, overwhelmed, and scared. It allayed the very helpless feeling that I didn't have control of or know my own body.
On a brighter note, I added porcelain terrazzo plates to my shop for the first time, using a new technique of tinted dyes, sliced pieces, and lots of rolling with a good old rolling pin.
In May I made my biggest pot yet. It was a large cactus-stamped planter that I hand-built from speckle clay. I worked on it before bed each night for about a week and finished sculpting it right before leaving town for two weeks. Although I usually like to make multiples of custom orders just in case, I only had enough room to make one. I wrapped it very lovingly in a giant garbage bag to allow it to slowly dry while we were on vacation.
We spent two weeks of the month in Europe, visiting Bordeaux and traveling down the Basque coast to St. Jean de Luz, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and had planned to spend the day of our 1st wedding anniversary in Lisbon before heading home. I loved this trip, but we hit a hiccup in San Sebastian, where I contracted a food borne illness on the night of our arrival. It lasted for several days. I began to feel better in Bilbao, but when our flight to Lisbon got canceled and rescheduled to a time that would give us less than a day in Lisbon, we asked to go straight home. Our collection of medicines from other countries grew. Our experience and confidence with treating food poisoning also grew. Twice now, one of us has fallen ill and the other was right there to provide care and love and company, to push them to walk a little farther, see a little more, and then to take them home and tuck them in to rest. This is marriage.
Despite not feeling 100%, there were wonderful sights, great food, wine (just a little), and sunshine. The unexpected result of the trip was that I became utterly enamored with Bordeaux, and because of it, cannot wait to go back to see more of France.
See my Bordeaux travel diary.
Summer came with a vengeance, and the city turned hot, humid, and soupy. We escaped upstate to the Finger Lakes for another friend's wedding at Heron Hill Winery overlooking Keuka Lake. We roomed with friends and did a tiny wine tour beforehand, driving to Seneca Lake to visit Hermann J. Wiemer vineyard and stopping for lunch before heading to Dr. Konstantin Frank winery. We lucked out with gorgeous weather that weekend, and it was the perfect amount of time to be away.
We also visited the Dream Machine in Williamsburg one day, beating the heat by walking through the differently themed rooms. Kevin had his first ball pit experience there, which I was thrilled to witness. Afterward, we stopped by the William Vale Hotel for some soft serve from Mr. Dip's.
We booked a somewhat last minute vacation to Tulum, Mexico with friends and family in July. There, I was the hottest I've ever felt in my life. Each time we left our air conditioned rental house, there was virtually no respite from the heat, as most places we went were open air. I've never spent an entire day sweating so profusely. It put my complaints about New York City summers into perspective. You learn to deal with it somewhat, but it really takes a toll on you if you aren't used to that climate.
There was something about the way that the tourism industry, the so very expensive and exclusive nature of it, that really bugged me. Kevin speaks conversational Spanish and in chatting with the taxi drivers we had, we found out that all of the businesses along that main beach/jungle drag are owned by Americans, and that locals never go there because it's too expensive. We spent a little time in the downtown area as well, and the vibe was considerably different. The beach/jungle strip made me feel conflicted because I did think it was so beautiful. Magical, even, with what were essentially glass and wood structures stood up in the middle of jungle, lit by string lights. On our last night, we passed a clothing store that we'd visited that day; it sold torn kaftans for $360+ in basically a driftwood structure with leather tarp for cover. We saw a young Mexican man standing guard in front of it, and realized that his job was to keep watch of the store because you can't really lock up a leather and wood tent. It made me so aware of my privilege and it just didn't feel right... how could this area be flourishing so so much without integrating with the local culture at all?
Not to say that I didn't enjoy the trip overall. It's so nice to still be able to have these friend vacations in our 30's. We had family meals, pool time, and late night drinking games with stories that will last forever. We found an amazing hangout in Chamicos, just down the road from our house, and spent several afternoons just chilling there with great seafood and drinks.
We also visited two cenotes. I jumped from a ledge into the first, Xunaan-Ha which is an open air one, really pushing my fearful little self and finding gorgeous, clear, drinkable water beneath. The second was Dos Ojos, and that was one of the coolest things (ever?).. clear cold water in a partially covered sinkhole. We could see the cave structure underneath, divers going way down, and even went into a little bat cave at one point. We came out of Dos Ojos so cold that the Tulum heat didn't penetrate for a good 20 minutes after drying off.
On the last day, I got to see a Riviera Maya sunrise from a lounge chair facing the beach with the ocean breeze in my hair and palm trees swaying above me.
I used to hate August. It spelled the end of the summer and in my college days, meant a departure from home for another year. Not so, anymore, when I get to see autumn set in here, when I get to savor those last long afternoons of warm light and velvety humid air.
This August will be remembered for lots of light, happy things. We back went to Olmsted for brunch. This restaurant is such a good time with its great food, colorful dishes, and quirky surprises like a mini Japanese menu hidden within its main menu.
The movie Crazy Rich Asians swept the nation, particularly the Asian community, and I was so happy to join in on this wave.
Kevin's birthday was celebrated with a family meal at Upland and a speakeasy date night at Banzarbar. As a birthday gift for this year and going forward, I added breakfast hash to my weekend breakfast arsenal. I wondered what had taken me so long; every time we order hash at brunch, he always remarks on how much he loves it. Well I'm happy to report that mine is up to snuff as well.
September started with my first trip to Coney Island. It was an impromptu night visit and oh so fun. The lights, the colors, the (not Nathan's) hot dogs, the beer, and the rides (not the Cyclone for me, thanks). We were able to avoid the crushing crowds and I loved riding the Brooklyn Flyer and seeing the park light up in the night. We came home with those little goldfish you win and now we have a tank in which three of the four fish we brought home are still going strong: Luna, Big Thundy, and Esteban. We also added Persephone and Pierre, two mystery snails to the tank. I even made them a little ceramic house.
On one Saturday, I brought Fitzgerald with me to the studio. Kevin and I wanted to bring the boys on a Central Park outing in the afternoon and I didn't want him to have to take the subway with two dogs so Fitz came with me ahead of time. He was very well behaved and made a couple of human friends. Central Park was a nice new experience for them, but it was too hot to stay out long, and we started hearing complaints from Huxley, our little homebody, as the afternoon wore on. They got to see the rowboats, cross some foot bridges, peek at the sailboats, and meet more than a few other pups during our visit.
September also marked one year at my current firm. When I reflect on it, I do feel proud that I've accomplished so much in such a short time, but I also recognize the unhealthy levels of stress it has caused me. It's not for nothing that my health, which for most of my life has been luckily steady, has started to waver over this past year with inflammatory type ailments like out of control allergies, eczema, and back pain. One main impact of this job from pretty much day one is that I've stopped exercising. I used to make it to a ClassPass class or two every week. Now, I don't have as much free time, and choose to spend the time I do have at home with Kevin and the pups or making pottery at the studio - two things that nourish my soul the most. This lack of activity, and this phase of my professional life, are facets of my routine that I need to reconsider, something I've recently come to terms with.
Kevin and I got tattoos together one evening after happy hour, dinner, and dessert in Chinatown. While we'd planned to get them for some time, the actual doing was on a whim. We'd picked up desserts from Kopitiam, taking them to go since the cafe was packed, and found a stone bench to sit on. After a few bites we looked up and noticed we were right outside a tattoo parlor and so we decided to see if they could take us as walk-ins.
The NY Yankees have been a really exciting team for the past couple of seasons, and postseason baseball began in October. We went to the Wild Card game, which they won, sending them to the playoffs. The energy of the place was cranked all the way up. Over the past year or so the fandom got nicknamed the Bronx Zoo, and we rocked the house. They subsequently got knocked out and didn't make it to the World Series. Despite that, there is nothing like being in the stadium for the postseason. Wishing the team better luck next year, and we'll be there for it all!
We went for our first and only hike of the season in the Hudson Valley at the Breakneck Ridge trail. It starts with a 20 minute rock scramble straight up the side of a mountain, so we didn't bring the two pups for this one. We started pretty early and finished in time for lunch in the town of Cold Spring. We walked around for a bit, I fell deeper in love with the Hudson Valley, and we came home in the afternoon to close out a short and sweet day trip. Upon coming home I immediately restarted my real estate search for upstate homes. Maybe one day we'll take the plunge.
But there's something about NYC that has my whole heart. I truly feel that the dining here is the best in the world. I believe that when you're looking for authentic cuisine, be it Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, you name it, you can find that here because there are people from that part of the world who have come here and brought with them their techniques, ingredients, and flavors. There's also incredible fine dining and then there are the little taverns that aim for New American simplicity and do it damn well. For example, we had a late dinner at Achilles Heel in Greenpoint with my sister-in-law and her boyfriend and had a wonderful night. We got one of everything (so easy!) and two bottles of wine (delicious and off the beaten path!), and because we were at the edge of Brooklyn, we emptied out of the restaurant afterward to face the glowing Manhattan skyline. I just don't know if I could ever give up the feast that is my city.
This was the month I finished a few holiday orders that I'd been working on since August and so I started to make new things. I'd been wanting to try bigger bowls for some time, for ramen and pasta, and I also began making these wavy-walled cups from which I would love to drink cheap, sparkling wine. Made from speckle clay, these cups take glaze with such interesting texture variation due to the clay body and their angles and curves.
We added to our favorite soup recipes collection just in time for winter. Kevin found an amazing Portuguese sausage and greens soup and we made it maybe three times in November and even more since. There's a meat version of it as well which we've also made and love.
I invested in my business this month by engaging a graphic designer to develop logo and branding elements for Mammoth & Minnow. I love the results down to the earth tones and terrazzo pattern on the back of my business cards. I find the logo, a hand cradling stars, so beautiful - as if I hold magic in my hands.
We dove into the holiday social bustle and went out fairly often to see friends and family. We had one really notable meal at Bunna Cafe in Bushwick for Kevin's mom's birthday. He found the Ethopian vegetarian restaurant, which is something right up her alley. We were happy to walk in and find the place quite busy - I love to see people embracing diverse cuisines.
We also had a date night walking around Manhattan to experience the holidays in the city, and spent a weekend upstate in Kingston, NY at the Forsyth B&B with the pups for a little family getaway to end the year on a sweet note.
As is fitting for 2018, while at the B&B I unfortunately saw a re-emergence of allergic reactions, presenting this time a little bit differently than the ones from the beginning of the year and seem to not be tied to a food group.. I don't yet know what's going on and it's something I'll deal with into the new year, but I'm thankful I still got to explore Kingston and to have done it with my three boys by my side.
And with that...
2019 is around the corner. Already some exciting things are in store. I look forward to moving forward.