“Croissant Bread French Toast, a Persimmon Red Bike, and a Giant Pup Named Ruthie” by Leanne Grabel

I’ve always adored December Best of the Year lists. So I thought I’d finish off my year with
Another Chicago Magazine by creating one. Last month I wrote that we all needed to figure
out a way to come together in this country because we are halved and gutted. But as the
month has proceeded, I’ve lost my desire to unify in a calm and supportive way. To be
honest, I have not calmed down much at all about Agent Orange and his posse of craven
zombies. My outrage is out of control again. Yes, now it’s about the size of an entire fleet
of Buicks. There is a brain-eating parasite let loose in America created by right-wing lies. I
say STOP IT. JUST STOP IT.

But onward to my list:

  1. I love that that lying man with money stuffed in his mouth and a long red tie lost and he lost BIG. He is the BIGGEST LOSER in 80 years. Sorry for my snark, but that’s my #1.
  1. We got a puppy in April. Ruthie. [Ruth Bader Ginsburg]. She’s a multicolored
    goldendoodle from Missouri. I call her coat tortoise shell. The day her collar that said RBG Live Forever arrived from an Etsy account in the Ukraine, of all places, RBG died. Hopefully, Ruthie absorbed her brain, her integrity, and her sense of justice.
  2. Food has ruled, as always. In the nine months of this pandemic lockdown, I have cooked and eaten more than I have ever cooked and eaten in my life.

Foods of the Pandemic
• La Boulangerie Croissant Bread French toast [OMFG]
• Dutch babies
• Roasted root vegetables, like turnips and rutabaga [Who knew?]
• Roasted root vegetables purée
• Hot cereal [old-fashioned oats, steel-cut oats and flax meal] served with
blueberries, raisins, cashews, a splash of maple syrup and oatmilk
• My son-in-law’s breakfast potatoes


• Small chocolate mousse cups from Whole Foods with extra whipped cream
• French roast coffee with half-and-half
• Lamb chops, which I hadn’t had in perhaps 50 years, pan-fried in butter, fresh
rosemary and garlic
• Butter
• Beautifully described boutique weed on every block

  1. I couldn’t read many books these last nine months. Words, although my loves, started suffocating me . . . like an avalanche of murk. We now subscribe to the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Mother Jones, the Nation, Vanity Fair and the Oregonian. [My husband falls for offers that include magazine subscriptions.] I try to read all those. And I have a social media addiction. That’s a lot of damn verbiage. I’m tapped out.

    I have read a few poetry collections by some friends. I could mention them but I’ll forget people and then secretly they’ll be hurt and I’ll feel like a schmuck. Let’s just say poetry works in stressful times. It’s wise. And often short.

    I did love Maira Kalman’s Sara Berman’s Closet. It’s flash memoir with pictures. It is a fabulous example of my current genre of choice. I also was amazed by Nora Krug’s graphic memoir Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home. That book blew my mind. Both books made me feel inspired.

    These are the books sitting on my nightstand. Most of them have been there for months. When I read books again, these are first on my list:
    A Small Crowd of Strangers by Joanna Rose
    Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
    On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
    Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now edited by Amit Majmudar
    In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
    Green Diver by Peter Sears
    Luge by Peter Sears
    The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing edited by Kevin Young
    The Best Contemporary Jewish Writing edited by Michael Lerner
  2. I could pretend I didn’t watch at least a thousand hours of television since March, but I’m sure I did. I mean, how many walks can a person take? I downloaded my Netflix history and it’s longer than the Oxford English Dictionary. Below are my favorite TV shows of the year:
    Better Things
    Dead to Me
    The Crown
    Unorthodox
    Shtisel
    Sex Education
    The Eddy
    Normal People
    Lovecraft Country
    The Queen’s Gambit
    Million Little Things
    Real Time With Bill Maher [I know many don’t like him. I do and he has amazing guests like Jon Meacham.]
    This Is Us
    New Amsterdam
    The Blacklist
    Grey’s Anatomy [Fifteenth year]
  3. Jon Meacham
  4. Mary Trump
  5. Thanks for the Dance by Leonard Cohen, put out posthumously by his son, is my favorite album of the year. The language is TREMENDOUS. I highly recommend it, as well as Dylan’s new Rough and Rowdy Ways and the single “Murder Most Foul.” Dylan’s is my current favorite bike-riding music.
  6. My wardrobe choices have skewed toward comfort and durability in order to withstand jumping dogs and not dig in while I’m sitting on the couch watching TV. My most-worn and highly recommended garments:
    • 90-Degree high-waist leggings [bought on sale at 65% off]
    • Kids size XL red Blazers hoodie [for short people, kids’ clothes are cheaper
    and XL is probably similar to a small in Women’s.]
    • Gray drawstring all-purpose sweatpants.
    • Rubber rainboots
    • Puffy jacket. [NOTE: I never thought I’d get a puffy jacket because I thought
    they were snotty and that I’d look like a colored snowball. Then I got one on
    sale at 75% off and now I get it. They are freaking WARM and LIGHT.
    • Eileen West sleeveless long cotton nightgowns [50% off]
    • Fake Uggs
    • Old Hoka running shoes [just destroyed Sunday night by Ruthie]
    • Really old Stanford pullover sweatshirt with sleeves cut off. [By the way, I did
    write Stanford and complain about Scott Atlas and Tom Cotton.]
    • My father’s old black beret with a resistance fist pin and a Barack Obama pin
    on the brim
    • Amber-framed sunglasses that I bought to copy John Lennon after watching
    that special a few months ago on ABC.
  7. I colored for hours. I sketched and outlined and colored like an eight-year-old because I’m illustrating a novel by the filmmaker Penny Allen. One drawing per page. I have completed almost 200 drawings and have fifty to go. Coloring images outlined in black was my favorite indoor childhood activity. I could color for years. I’m going to color for years. Coloring saves.
  1. Beyond the fact that masks save people from infection and possible death, I want to celebrate masks for their efficiency at allowing human anonymity. For all the solitude and loneliness of which people complain, there has been something fabulous about masks’ ability to hide a face. Scorn disappears. Yes, kindness disappears too. Sadness disappears. Tears disappear? Age disappears–I mean, I’m getting suggestive looks again instead of being the invisible sixty-nine-year-old woman that I am. Judgment disappears. Mood disappears.
  1. I got a new bike, the color of persimmons. It has a black basket and pedal-powered lights. I wear a mask when I ride, mostly on the Eastbank Esplanade that follows the Willamette River in Portland. I also wear sunglasses and a helmet. Talk about anonymity.
  2. My naturopath and my primary, neither of whom I’ve seen in a year, both suggested Trazodone for my chronic sleep–shall I call it–brevity. I took it for a few months a decade ago. They used to give Trazodone to the teenage girls I taught in a lockdown residential treatment center. [I thought it couldn’t be harmful if the State was giving it to children. I was more innocent then.] But I’m not a fan of pharmaceuticals, especially the hundreds that are linked to dementia, so I quit. But if my naturopath says . . . well . . . I’m taking Trazodone again and I’m sleeping in six-hour blocks, not two-hour blocks.
  3. I welcomed gluten back into my life. [Hallelujah.] I stopped eating it for gut issues in 2010. But I couldn’t resist that La Boulangerie Croissant Bread French toast. Gluten will be temporary because my guts and joints are sobbing. But the party’s not over yet. Maybe after the holidays, such as they are.
  4. It’s been such an odd, frustrating, and tragic year. I want to say things like “Hang on. It’s going to get better soon because he freaking lost and will have to leave, along with his zombie posse of selfish dicks, male and female.” But with so much petty, depraved, and embarrassingly childish noise coming from the tainted White House, well, I’m not sure of anything.
  5. But I can’t believe it only took fifteen minutes to clean up after Thanksgiving.

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Leanne in Lei

Leanne Grabel is a writer, illustrator, performer, and retired special education teacher. Grabel is the 2020 recipient of Soapstone’s Bread and Roses Award for contributions to women’s literature in the Pacific Northwest. In love with mixing genres, Grabel has written and produced numerous spoken word–based multi-media shows, including The Lighter Side of Chronic Depression and Anger: The Musical. Her poetry books include Lonesome & Very Quarrelsome Heroes; Short Poems by a Short Person; Badgirls (a collection of flash non-fiction & a theater piece); and Gold Shoes, a collection of graphic prose poems. Grabel has just completed Tainted Illustrated, a stretched graphic memoir that was serialized in the OPIATE, and is finishing a collection of illustrated flash memoir My Husband’s Eyebrows. She and her husband Steve Sander are the founders of Café Lena, Portland’s legendary poetry hub of the ’90s.