Things I liked or loved in 2023
There was, for me, precious little to love about 2023. While doing a deep dive into the archives of my Instagram photos to find a record of just how hard that first year of puppyhood was (the better to remind myself that Rilke is not a monster and not too bad and I am not a failure, etc. etc.), I found a photo of an evening watching a presidential debate between Trump and Hilary in 2016. My caption? “Make America 2020 already.”
Jokes on me.
I can’t believe that was eight years ago and we’re entering yet another election year where Trump is not only running but leading in the GOP. I don’t know about you, but I need every reminder of goodness these days. In no particular order except the order they occurred to me in, here are things I liked or loved in 2023.
Good American Always Fits Petite Jeans. If you’re a curvy petite whose weight fluctuates often, you might like these too. Somehow, magically, they are sized for three sizes. I was dubious, but I was proven wrong. They’re soft, a little stretchy, and they fit perfectly without being baggy. Who knew.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know how much I love Downeast Doodles Balsam fir candle, but I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here. It’s the only candle we burn and we love it a hundred percent. It’s not in the least overpowering, it smells like actual balsam instead of sickly-sweet fake pine, and I love supporting a small business.
2023 was a year of puzzles for me. I don’t know why but something about an out of the way table with an always in progress puzzle is, for me, so helpful. It’s something to do to mentally check out and also feels relaxing for me. Eeboo and Puzzledly puzzles are my favorite. Idea: a Little Free Library but for good high quality puzzles.
This was the year of the meal service for the Wilbert household. I’m not sure these make much sense if you have a large family but when you’re cooking for just two, I’ve realized the value in a good ole’ meal service. Last winter we used a local one owned by a neighbor, over the autumn we had a few coupons for Hello Fresh, but over this winter we’ve been using Green Chef and I think they might be my favorite. Here’s a code for some free meals if you want to try them out.
Reading a lot of books. I’ve always read a lot of books but I don’t know that I can remember a year where I read as many books as I did this year and I am so, so grateful for it. I recognize the privilege in being able to have time to read but it became the single best decision I made this year. It helped my writing, my mental health, my sleep, and my perspective.
One of the first things I did as the calendar turned to January 1st in 2023 was begin the process of deleting my personal Facebook profile. It was, shall we say, a giant hassle as Meta doesn’t make it easy especially if you’re keeping a business profile (which I was). It was an almost instant relief to me to delete my profile. The only regret I have is how many tenuous threads of relationships I had there that were severed almost completely. I didn’t mind the loss of personal records or “friends who were followers,” but I have missed the slight connections I’ve made through the years with people that I always want to remember. It’s a bit harder without the FB friendship.
In 2023, I jumped off the bridge because all my friends did and left Twitter. I didn’t delete my Twitter because I don’t want my name getting swiped by someone else, but I have not a single regret leaving that space.
Instead, in 2023, I’ve given all my attention to Substack and I have loved, loved, loved it. I never stopped blogging when blogging was out of fashion because blogging, for me, was practice and I always needed practice.
TW. Over the summer I began seeing a nutritionist. It has been a deeply humbling and somewhat humiliating process for me. I haven’t written much about my eating disorder or yo-yo dieting, but I have been on the verge of starving myself for more than a decade without knowing it. Because my weight fluctuates and I gain it so easily, I’ve often convinced myself I’m a glutton and a pig and need to eat less. When my nutritionist had me track every single thing that went into my mouth over a several week period and we discovered most days I was eating fewer than 1100 calories a day, it was both freeing and also frustrating. The past six months I’ve been learning about macros and trying to up my protein and quiet the voice in my head that says any food is too much food.
I have never had a great skincare routine and I still don’t, but I’ve been using Ursa Major Golden Hour Recovery Cream for a few years now and it’s saving my winter face.
I love nothing more than I love a good salad. Some days I feel like whipping up a bit of homemade dressing but in 2023, we just stockpiled Aldi’s Greek dressing and called it done. It’s probably not the healthiest thing in the world, but I figure if you’re putting it on three cups of spinach and power greens and a sundry other vegetables, that makes up for it.
After years and years of ignoring my phone, letting almost every call go to voicemail and preferring texts, for the second year in a row, I have preferred the good old fashioned phone call. While all my friends are Marco-Poloing and Voxing and Voice Texting and iMessaging, I am that one friend who’s like, “Got time for a call?” And it’s been the best. I’ve had some of the best conversations with old friends and new ones via the phone this year.
Over the summer I reorganized the books in my office-sunroom in ROYGBIV and without exception, every single time I look at them it brings me joy.
2023 was the year of realizing that we were never going to have that idyllic-chaotic family dinner table where we all catch up on our days and yell at everyone to put their phones away and sit up straight. Instead, over dinner almost every night of 2023, we played a game. Our favorites were Patchwork and Splendor.
Listen, I’ve tried all the expensive period panties and they seem like they’re made for a girl who bleeds daintily—Thinx, Knix, etc.. I, like most women with PCOS, do not bleed daintily. Finally, I tried a highly rated budget option, Goat Union Period Panties, and I’m never ever ever getting back together with any other ones. These don’t feel like diapers, they don’t leak, they’re not flimsy, they actually do hold 3-4 tampons worth. I’m sold.
This might be unpopular, but at the beginning of 2023, I did a little bit of a Friendship Inventory. I don’t want to describe the exact science I used, but I figured by 40, one should have a pretty good idea of what one can offer and what one needs in friendship. I have spent too many years in lopsided friendships that never progressed in certain areas and I just did not want to spend more years of my life wondering if I was the problem. I’m not saying I wasn’t the problem (in many of them I was!), but I needed to find a solution. I decided to use my limited social energy in relationships that had particular qualities and while it wasn’t a success in the sense that I’m 100% happy with where it ended, it did help me understand and articulate why certain friendships were just not healthy for me.
(Are you still reading?)
At the start of 2023 I wrote my four big goals for the year on an index card and tacked it to my desk. I looked at it every single day and it helped me so much to prioritize the things I knew God had asked of me and not let in the little foxes other people wanted me to prioritize. I suspect I disappointed a lot of people this year but I feel really grateful and proud of the four big things I accomplished and that’s not a familiar feeling for me.
In January of 2023,shared a post I’ve gone back and read innumerable times this year. One of the lines she used came from Kelly Gordon: Self care isn’t just self comfort. This shouldn’t be a revolutionary statement, but for an Enneagram 9 like me (and Sarah) it was. I also wrote this line on an index card this year and it was so orienting for me all year.
Along with my ROYGBIV bookshelves, I also hunted for rainbows in prisms, suncatchers, and stained glass. Basically I wanted to surround myself with color and light this year and it’s been really beautiful.
A shared love of camping and the outdoors has been a part of my friendship with my dearest friend since we were freshman in high school, but it’s been years since we’ve gone together. Over the summer I went camping with her in the nearby Adirondacks and it was so rich and fun and refreshing. I loved every minute of it and it made me want to do it ten more times in 2024.
One of the sad realities of our 900sf house is that when we moved in it had a brand new furnace and, after we discovered the house was almost completely void of insulation—making it effectively a three season house—we got it insulated within an inch of its life. All my hopes and dreams of a wood stove were just not very realistic. However, in the winter, the sunroom—while flooded with sunlight in the rest of the year—can be a bit drafty. Enter: the fake woodstove. I would have judged me so hard a few years ago but I just don’t even care. I love this thing.
Another change I made to the way I do friendship this year was to no longer give my vulnerability and tenderness to friends who gossip, stir up trouble, or slander. My personality can tend to avoid conflict by just changing the subject or showing disinterest, but I realized this was really not God-honoring. Over the past few years I began speaking up when someone was gossiping (and asking for friends to say something if they saw it in me) and when I didn’t see change, I was able to establish boundaries I hadn’t in the past. Some key phrases I looked out for, “Have you heard about so and so?” “Not to stir up trouble or anything, but…” “Are you aware that so and so…” “What do you think about so and so?” I also looked out for caustic or sarcastic ways of referring to other people and also patterns of not assuming the best about someone. (To be clear, I looked out for these patterns in my own life as well.) This was a really good shift for me in almost every way.
Conversely, I have found such deep and profound value in friendships this year where the truth is spoken in love and kindness, but always the truth. I want to hear the nitty gritty things, the angst, the fears, the sadness, the grief, the sin, the critique, the frustrations with me or others, but always with an eye toward goodness and an assumption that we’re all growing and changing. I found that this year in the voices of some friends and I’m deeply, deeply grateful for it.
I collected a lot of nature this year. Honoring Leave No Trace principles, but also scooping up a pile of pebbles or pocketing a pine cone or a scroll of birch-bark or a flattened fern or colored leaf. I have it all lined up on a shelf above my desk and every piece reminds me of all the places I’ve walked in 2023.
Finally, 2023 was the year I wrote a book without an outline or proposal. Brazos (and my inimitable editor) trusted me when I said, “I have a book idea, I think it’s good, but I think it will be better if you just let me write my way into it.” I think (I don’t know, but I think) it’s my best book yet and certainly my favorite one yet, so I hope that’s a trend I can carry into my next book. I just do not function well with saying what I’m going to write about and then writing it. I need the deep, dark, quiet, the churning of my own mind and heart and no one else’s to get to the good stuff.
I’m happy 2023 is over. Along with all these good and beautiful things, there were some really difficult things and the tendrils of the past few years of difficult things, some sadness that I couldn’t shake, some grief and regret that I had to work through, some dead relationships I finally let die. I know it’s just the flip of a calendar, another new week or day or month, and there’s nothing magical about a new year, no new-me to be found. But it’s good for me to reflect and reaffirm and reorient myself afresh.
To bring it around full circle, just like 2016 and 2020, we’re headed into another doozy of a year and I think it’s time right now for us to gird up and prepare for the year ahead, particularly in regard to the church and politics. I don’t want to hawk my wares, but as I said above, I wrote a book that I really love that I think might help some of us as we navigate this year and I think you should preorder it now so it’s in your hands the day it releases.
Here’s what some wonderful folks have said about it thus far:
“A remarkably acute and resonant account.” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
“Rare and beautiful.” —Aundi Kolber, MA, LPC, therapist; author of Try Softer and Strong Like Water
“Powerful, poised, poetic. Wilbert preaches like a prophet and writes like a friend.” —Rachel Marie Kang, author of Let There Be Art and The Matter of Little Losses
“Part Wendell Berry, Eugene Peterson, and Madeleine L’Engle. The result is sheer magic.” —A. J. Swoboda, associate professor, Bushnell University; author of After Doubt
“Raw honesty devoid of cynicism.” —Amanda Held Opelt, author of Holy Unhappiness and A Hole in the World
“Concerned with the radical act of being.” —Drew Jackson, poet and author of God Speaks through Wombs and Touch the Earth
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