Every night while getting ready for bed, I write out a list of three good things from the day. It’s part of my winding down ritual, and helps end even the toughest day with a little bit of sweetness. Sometimes the list spills well beyond three. Sometimes it’s a struggle to come up with anything, and clean laundry counts as a big win.
This year, especially the past couple of months, has been a really tough day. And as 2023 comes to a close, it seems beneficial to practice with a longer good-things list.
Some of what I came up with are big. Some are small. Some of aren’t directly related to my usual health and herbal topics, or only tangentially so. Others will come as no surprise.
I wrote it as part of my own health practice, but also with the hope that it spark your recognition of beauty in the year that’s nearly behind us, and maybe inspire you with ideas for 2024.
To be clear, this is not a gratitude list, although it can function that way. It’s specifically about seeking joy, even when you have to scrape to find some. I offer it not to gloss over the seriousness of the moment, but to help navigate through it.
So here is my list, in no particular order, of 23 things, small and not so small, that brought me joy in 2023. And I wish you more of it in 2024.
Despite having only one trip planned for this year (shot down by the war), I managed a surprising number of spontaneous shorter jaunts. After some medical issues in August, I woke up one Saturday to see a friend’s pictures from Homer, Alaska — and got on a plane the next day. I bopped up to Anchorage again in November on one week’s notice, to attend an event with the Alaska Association of Naturopathic Doctors. (See more on that below.) And in December I went out to the Columbia Gorge for a hike and just kept going, having a quick supper with a dear friend in Hermiston and then driving another three hours back home. Getting these spontaneous adventures in is one of the highlights of my year.
honey by the gallon
I was going through my (herbal) medicine cabinet the other day and came upon the garlic honey I made back in June. (I’ve also been loving up the honeyed citrus peel I made in March, and the rose-petal honey from May, and the oshala (Ligusticum grayii) honey from 2020.) And I realized, having a gallon of honey on hand to make delicious medicine and food (hello, cranberry sauce!) is really one of my favorite things. I went to stock up after crossing the Santiam Pass, and the good folks at Mickelberry Gardens even had a Santiam wildflower honey! It’s local and delicious, and supporting small businesses is the best.
soaking up my favorite sit spot
I spent hours nearly every day of my Homer trip at my favorite sit spot, watching the mountains comb the clouds, munching on beach greens, admiring so many pretty rocks, meandering, taking a zillion photos, reading my book, and trying to soak the place into my pores to keep it close when I’m not.
One thing great thing about my neighborhood walks are the unexpected finds. This year, a neighbor had a superabundance of Concord grapes growing over their fence and into the alley. Between August and November, no one seemed to touch them. So while I’m generally against harvesting without permission, I feel okay admitting that I took a small tithe whenever I walked by, and enjoyed the bounty for an astonishingly long season. And visiting the vines over months was a regular reminder that superfoods aren’t only unusual items grown far, far away. Everything you need may be growing in an alley near you.
it was an awesome pawpaw year
While we’re on the subject of backyard bounty, in my garden it was a fabulous pawpaw year. Most of these native North American fruiting trees require a second variety for pollination, and my seconds have consistently resisted living. I’m not sure if it was the weather, or if someone else has some in a nearby yard, but I got more pawpaws from my 20-year-old tree than ever before. They’re gorgeous and delicious and for once I even had enough to share.
wildflowers and herbal classes
This was also a great personal year for wildflowers. Not only did I catch some peak blooms on my own (pictured), but I also got to attend a short alumni herb class with Columbines School of Botanical Studies. That class was at the confluence of several different ecosystem types on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, and I got to meet so many cool new-to-me plants in their native environments.
meeting Pedicularis densiflora in the wild
I’ve loved this particular species of calming Pedicularis as an extract for years, but have never seen it growing in the wild. That’s in part because its season isn’t super long, and also because its range begins a 4-hour drive from my house. This year, however, I magically managed the perfect timing. My friend Deb of Siskiyou Mountain Herbs shared with me her secret spot (which I will never divulge), and off I went. I put on tall boots to protect myself from the poison oak that was just leafing out (when it’s the most dangerous!), but otherwise had a magical time finding flowers in the Ponderosa-perfumed sunshine. Making medicine is medicine, clearly.
Photography has been a thing in my family since before I was born. It’s a tradition on one side of my family to basically stick people in front of things and take pictures of them. There are people who’ve always known me with a camera around my neck (remember those?). The advent of Instagram and the ease of a back-pocket phone/camera rekindled that love for me back in the day. And although I started using my professional Instagram account more for getting out health information, this year I’ve reclaimed my original account to post pretty pictures of plants and places.
I took advantage of the early pandemic years to let my hair do its natural color thing. It’s fully grown out now, and the process isn’t something I want to repeat. But I was getting so bored, and started stalking my stylist friend Carole’s Instagram. She posts pictures of the amazing vivid colors she does for her hair clients, and I thought, why not? Click on over and you’ll find me there, having done two rounds of peekaboo green. I’m letting it grow out now, but it was a fun experiment. Who knows what 2024 will bring?
the alaska association of naturopathic doctors
This was the year that I joined the AKAND as both a member and as its vice president. It’s an honor to work with and support my colleagues caring for Alaskans. (I offer telemedicine for Alaskans through my practice, Alta Natural Medicine.) We’re working with the Alaska legislature to offer at least more of the kinds of care naturopathic doctors in Oregon can: basic pharmaceutical prescriptions, office procedures like wart removal, nutrient injections and vaccinations, etc. If you’d like to see this happen, please consider joining or donating — it’s even a write off!
starting a new collection
For the past couple of years, my favorite non-work T shirts have been from the Homer and Portland farmer’s markets. I wear one of the Portland market shirts every time I fly back to Oregon. I wear the Alaska ones all the time. This year I decided to become a collector. It’s a small thing, but one that makes me happy.
so. many. eagles.
It was also a great year for eagles. I saw them at the beach, I saw them over the road, I saw them in the Columbia Gorge. Some even condescended to let me photograph/video them. It’s always just so special. (See some videos here and here.)
garlic breath spit salt
Speaking of Homer and its farmer’s markets, I first bumped into the Alaska Salt Co. there a few years ago. Refined from Kachemak Bay water at the Homer Spit, their flagship product is called Spit Salt. And I thought that was hilarious. I’ve been laughing raucously at their seriously salty newsletter for years, and always visit the mother ship when I’m in town. They even supported my Alaska practice with door prizes for my opening open house. (So grateful!) When they announced the creation of a new salt flavor called Garlic Breath, I knew I’d have to try it. And while I could (and should) have ordered it earlier, it wasn’t until my August excursion that I actually got some. We put it on fish that night, and I rushed out the next day to basically clean out the store. I’ve given a few smaller vials away as presents, and hoard the rest to use on … everything from fish to popcorn to salads. Everything about it just makes me happy.
Solopreneuring is often isolating. How do you have community when you work alone? Although some introverts cringe at the idea, I love love love the virtual coworking app Groove. For the last two years I’ve spent many hours every week doing 50-minute checkins with people all over the country and the world. It’s created some critical support and real friendships. And it often makes my nightly three-good-things list. If you do better with people around, but not necessarily physically so, check it out. Free!
camping with beloveds
My friend AJ came from Montreal with (almost) her whole family, and I got to tag along for a night at Silver Falls State Park. (They were part of the inspiration to go green, although they tend more toward the reds and purples.) The semi-annual friends Gemini party was in the woods outside of Oakridge on my birthday proper. And my med-school bestie Cheryln and I slept under the stars on Mount Hood’s flanks for a few (very cold) nights. Bliss. Planning more in ’24.
the thursday night phone date
Another way my med-school bestie rocks? We’ve been doing a weekly phone date every Thursday since 2019, with almost no missed nights. It’s a highlight of the week.
making music every night
Since my friend Mick brought me in to perform at events a few years ago, I have made a practice of playing my guitar, at least a little bit, every single night. I’ve been at it for two and a half years now, and the only times I’ve skipped have been when I was traveling with no guitar available. I did spoil my perfect record this summer when I was traveling and forgot to play before leaving the house. But that’s just once in two and a half years! I keep it up just in case I need to play in front of people again, and as part of a daily self-care practice. It’s something that even helps calm me down when I’m nervous about, for instance, giving a big presentation. But also, it’s just a joyous thing, well known to moderate stress and support mood and immunity.
the beauty of vegetables
I strongly believe that beautiful food makes everything better. And while I didn’t spend as much time this year making my food look beautiful (see the salad beautification project), the food itself was often lovely. Taking time to appreciate beauty where you find it is good for health all around. And if that appreciation leads you to actively seek fabulously colored veggies, that’s a great thing.
really good olive oil
Olive oil is a workhorse in the kitchen. But exceptional EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) is a thing of beauty. A few years ago some foodie friends turned me on to a local-ish olive mill (most of their fruit comes from California) that has the freshest oil I’ve ever tasted in the US. I really like the stronger flavor and peppery bite, and it gives me joy to pour it on salads or popcorn or dressings. This isn’t what I’d use for making topical medicines, but it’s awesome for anything edible where you’d like a strong olive flavor.
fantastic fall foliage
I’m not sure what combination of factors caused it, but the fall colors this year were off the hook and lasted forever. You can see a lot of pretty leaves on my GardenMedicine Instagram account (although I hope you also follow my Dr.Orna account, too. Good stuff coming soon!)
every. single. hike.
I’m aware that every good thing in my life is a privilege, and one of them are guaranteed. So I’m grateful for every single time I make it to the woods, or the beach, or the mountains, or the desert. Even the little ones. Even the close ones.
what friendship looks like
Driving back from the California coast this spring, I stopped at a farmer’s market (before I started collecting T shirts) where I knew a friend I hadn’t seen in years would be vending. When I walked up to the booth she looked at me and started screaming, jumping up and down, then ran to embrace me and ask how long I could stay. On a trip to New York to see family, another friend I’d not seen in forever came up from New Jersey just to walk in the park with me. When I saw her, she jumped and screamed and hugged me hard and forever. And those two specific experiences reminded me of two important things: 1) It’s okay not to be everybody’s favorite person, 2) prioritize the people who scream and jump up and down and hug you fiercely when they see you.
the little and the not-so-little things
And a catch-all for number 23: Connecting with long-disconnected friends and family, even when it was because of illness, death or war. A sun-warmed tomato fresh from the garden. Waking up to nettle tea I’d made myself the night before. Homemade summer pesto in darkest December. Awesome patients. Great garlic. The ongoing joy and surprise of plant medicine. A warm comforter. A (safe) campfire in the almost rain. A view. Falling asleep to good books. Plotting with my cousin, even if we were thwarted. Making tea. Meyer lemons. Disseminating chocolate. The continued presence of my parents, and the continuity of my people despite … everything.
And you. You bring me joy. Knowing that someone reads this and maybe feels a little bit of spark, a little bit of joy, or even the hope for joy. You can see from my list that a lot of it is about connecting with people. Writing into the void is an act of hope. And I wish hope and joy and health for all of us in 2024.