We are treehuggers, but we’re also loggers. This is Emma at the local tree farm with last year’s Fraser Fir, which served us well as 2017 began.
This is a rare shot of Emma NOT working. She and her partner, Ayyappan Venkatraman, are plowing through their residencies at Penn Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (pediatrics and internal medicine for Emma, psychiatry for Pan), and they are almost always wearing white coats and/or sleepy. But it’s all good.
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Okra is a West African plant that is not supposed to grow in Ithaca, New York, but our backyard crop was bountiful this year. The freezer is bulging with vegetables—ours and others from friends with whom we engage in semi-competitive food swapping and storage meets during harvest season.
I am still getting paid to look for news in strange places. This shot is from the mammoth annual trade show of the Private Label Manufacturers Association. But most of my work these days is either volunteering (for the Cornell Daily Sun and political causes) or what a contractor would call “on spec” (benefit corporations and the history of environmental activism in the Adirondacks).
I am extremely fortunate and grateful to be an independent journalist, among many other things. This was an unusually good year, and that is what this post is about. It doesn’t get into politics until the last graf, where I make a non-partisan suggestion about a specific action you might consider making in 2018. Forewarned is forearmed.
Tania is ending her third year of “retirement,” and I think she has found the rhythm of it. When she is not volunteering for historic preservation groups in Ithaca and Buffalo, she is often at the gym. Here she is with her trainer, Ashley Fennell. Ashley is smart, funny, and able to dead lift 270 pounds. I am encouraging Tania and Ashley to bench press each other, but so far they have declined.
Probably the biggest and happiest news of the year is Zoe Shea, who joined our family on October 21. Reader, she married him. Here are Will and Zoe in New York’s City Hall, getting their license. Zoe is a sharp lawyer who likes to take down bad guys. Will is Director of Analytics for Major League Baseball. The consensus is that they are freakishly happy and well-matched. More on this later.
As the year began, Tania and I celebrated Orthodox Christmas at the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Seminary in Jordanville, NY, where Tania’s parents and grandparents are buried. It’s about as Russian as you can get without a passport.
Then in March, we stretched a Phoenix business trip to see my old pal Joel Garreau, eat real tacos, and hike just before an historic “superbloom” that lit up the Sonoran Desert. These shots are from Cave Creek Regional Park.
2017 was a year of parties, and we went to four memorable ones. The first happened in Austin, Texas in March, when our friends Jay Pulliam and Mara Pfund threw a barbecue for us, my mom and sister, and my niece Lindsay and her family. The biggest thrill for me was playing catch with Lindsay and Luis’s son, Escher. Thanks, Jay and Mara!
Dyngus Day, the day after Easter in Buffalo, NY, will always make the short list. It’s like St. Patrick’s Day for Polish-Americans. It features a wacky parade with people dressed up like perogies and other things, while on the sidelines a battle rages of squirt gun attackers facing defenders who wield pussywillow branches. That party peaked when Brave Combo, the best punk-salsa-polka band in the land, tore the roof off the joint.
Deep Springs College’s Centennial party over July 4 weekend was another jaw-dropper. We stretched it out with a three-night train trip west, which I hadn’t done in 30 years and Tania, incredibly, had never done. Try Amtrak if you like staring out the window and making friends with strangers. If you’re over 40, pay for the sleeper.
The train let us off in Reno, where we were met by my old pal Nonie Holloway, who generously drove us to the College and even allowed us to stay in her tiny vintage 1947 tow-behind trailer. Deep Springs has about 700 living alumni, and nearly one-third of them made the trek to the valley. If you aren’t impressed by that, look at the map. Thanks, Nonie!
I’m irrationally proud of an elaborate stunt I helped stage for Deep Springs’ opening ceremony. Jonathan Kriess-Tompkins, a member of the Alaska State Assembly, surprised the crowd by appearing as the college’s founder, LL Nunn. Mr. Nunn magically rose from his Glendale crypt to deliver a 10-minute comic speech. I wrote the speech and played Mr. Nunn’s chauffeur. I know people often accuse me of making things up, but every word of the above paragraph is true.
When we got back from Deep Springs, we jumped on our bicycles and rode the Great Allegheny Passage, one of the country’s greatest rail-trails, 150 miles from Cumberland, MD to Pittsburgh, PA. One of the highlights of the trip was the youth vegetable-fashion display at the Fayette County, PA Fair.
Our house-sitters during that trip were Anastya Alexsandrov and her son Geny, who had also come to visit us in February from their home in St. Petersburg, Russia. Anastya’s husband, Kirill, who has a deep love for American cowboys, joined us when we returned.
Kirill is an historian at the University of St. Petersburg and a colleague of Tania’s late father, George. He helped us sort and donate some of George’s Cyrillic-language papers on World War II history to the Hoover Institution. We repaid him by renting a house on Cayuga Lake so they could bake in the sun for a few days before heading home. St. Petersburg, Russia is many things, but warm and sunny are not two of them.
Our next big trip happened on September 9, when we circumnavigated Cayuga Lake in an annual fundraiser for the Southern Tier AIDS Program. It’s a 105-mile day, known in the cycling biz as a “century ride,” and Tania did it for only the second time in her life. All that gym time made it possible for us to tune out the physical complaints and focus on the incredible scenery.
This year’s AIDS rids was also the first-ever century ride for our old pal Henry Tepper, who drove over from Boston to spend the day with us, and who surprised himself by finishing strong enough to shower and eat a hearty dinner with 400 close friends before collapsing in our spare bedroom. Hank is just one of several friends who we wish were our neighbors. Hey, maybe we should work on that.
Then it was time to prepare, worry, dress, and write a toast for the event of the year – Will and Zoe’s wedding on October 21st in Lake Placid, NY. I had never married off a child before, so I was unprepared for the emotional wallop, and I went through most of the weekend in happy disbelief. “Amazing” is a word that needs a vacation, but it truly describes my feelings of wonder and gratitude for this union and the families who celebrated it. Tania and I went home and slept for three days, like cats after they get home from the veterinarian.
In November, we managed to get in a trip to Florida to see my mother and two siblings. Brian and Nancy hosted our mom, cousin Tod, and Aunt Mary for a dinner that also could have been a shareholders’ meeting of Edmondson Farms Inc., but we didn’t talk business. Mostly we sat around and told jokes, which is what Edmondsons do.
A few weeks earlier, I covered a rally for The Poor People’s Campaign, which is reviving the movement Martin Luther King was organizing when he was killed 50 years ago. The Rev. William Barber (pictured here) gave a speech there that turned me from standby to convert. Councils in two dozen states are preparing to coordinate forty days of big, non-violent protests that will start on Mother’s Day, 2018. Most of the organizers come from churches. They aim to go beyond partisan politics and start a “moral revival.” If that sounds good to you, please learn more and sign up here.
OK, thanks for listening. Let’s go back to one of the happiest places I know — my brother Brian’s yard. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everybody! -Brad