As another year comes to a close, The 19th’s staff reflected on the things that brought them joy in 2023.
They shared the hobbies, television, comfort food and people who gave them much-needed solace or a sense of escape.
Some were simple, some were major life changes — but all provided much-needed respite.
I got back into riding horses this year after a 30-year hiatus, and it’s been pretty magical — but maybe not for the reason you’d expect. Being on horseback is the one place I can’t have my phone handy to check email, Slack or texts. It’s the one place I have to be totally and completely present, because the stakes are simply too high if I’m not. Distraction is dangerous.
This year I took my husband and daughter on their first dude ranch experience, where I got to share my horseback zen, my near meditative state, with them. They were great sports, though they clearly don’t get the same high that I do from loping across an open field or herding mischievous cattle. — Emily Ramshaw, CEO
My honeymoon in Japan was the trip of a lifetime — a childhood dream made possible with two years of saving and some wedding gifts. We hiked up an icy mountain in Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park to see snow monkeys hang out in hot springs. We went to Miyajima Island for the Chinkasai Fire Festival on New Year’s Eve and watched people carry torches the size of small cars. A sacred deer ate my spouse’s map right out of their pocket when they weren’t paying attention. In Tokyo, we ate those extremely fluffy, three-inch-high souffle pancakes that were viral on Instagram for a while. Even just thinking about the trip makes me feel warm. And the best part is, I did it all with my best friend. — Sara Luterman, caregiving reporter
I had my son at the end of a blistering summer in 2022 and meandered through the haze of newborn life for the rest of that year, only to emerge in 2023 ready to fully and enthusiastically embrace the experience of motherhood (now that I’m sleeping a little more). It’s basically my whole personality now. And it is still so hard. How many ear infections can a child get in one year?! But I have found myself saying that this is the season I wished for, and one that was hard won. I had all those other seasons already and now I get to do this one. Everyone who said parenting would be incredible — yes. You’re right. It’s JOY, all caps. — Chabeli Carrazana, economy reporter
For a decade I’d been riding an old Peugeot I bought on Craigslist for about $100. It was really heavy, had thin tires and janky gear shifters. After going on a few community rides and learning new bikes did, in fact, exist, I settled on buying a new gravel bike. It has been, in a sense, life-changing. I’ve ridden it through the streets of downtown for a Halloween scavenger hunt, taken it on a 60-mile loop around town with friends and ventured out on my first bikepacking trip — camping gear strapped haphazardly to the frame — to an area state park. It’s allowed me to explore the contours of a place I’ve called home and connected me to a community of silly, creative and adventurous people. — Jessica Kutz, climate and sustainability reporter
When I was a kid, I read a lot of prairie girl books. In them, the young protagonist — a Laura Ingalls Wilder or Kirsten Larson type — often spent weekends quilting. I was fascinated by the idea of making something so elaborate out of scraps, but I couldn’t figure it out myself. Decades passed. Then, one day, a friend made a passing comment about quilting kits, and I started googling. Five Melanie Ham videos and two charm packs later, I have made my first quilt — by hand, prairie girl style — and I’m on my way to finishing a second. — Flora Peir, news editor
I know they get a kitschy reputation, but I had a lot of fun making Shutterfly photo books this year. I made three — one for a family vacation, one for my 3-year-old and her best friend (since we recently moved away), and another of our professional family photos. They are so much fun to look through with our daughter, and they make our rental house feel like a home. They are also great gifts. — Julie Bogen, audience editor
This year I really leaned into my love of poetry. I joined the Miami Poetry Club last year, and we meet twice a month to write on the spot and get feedback on works in progress. Since joining I’ve read my work at a few open mics and a poem I wrote is set to appear in a local literary journal. Finding and sticking with hobbies and creative outlets can be really difficult, so I’m grateful to have found something that’s both cathartic and also community-centered. — Lance Dixon, audience engagement producer
Toward the end of the year I got into embroidery. I’m adding names to Christmas stockings and weird designs to bags. It’s my favorite non-screen activity of 2023 that is easy to do and also easy to undo (mistakes happen — a lot). Now send me your socks and I’ll add your initials! — Annelise McGough, audience editor
My number one — maybe only true — pregnancy craving has been ramen. In the dead of Texas summer, when temperatures broke 100 daily, I would happily slurp down steaming broth and noodles for lunch or dinner — and, occasionally, breakfast. Though I live down the street from a great ramen place (shoutout, Tatsu-ya), most of the time I relied on Shin noodles at home. After countless bowls, I can confidently tell you the perfect instant ramen hack, via chef Roy Choi: American cheese. Yes, really. The processed yellow squares melt into silky goodness that coats the noodles — all you have to do is mix in a slice (or, let’s be real, two) after adding spices. It’s a magical alchemy I don’t fully understand, but I absolutely won’t question. — Abby Johnston, partnerships editor
The first rule of my cookbook club: You always talk about the cookbook club. If you’re in my life even marginally, you’ll know that the club I created this summer is something I cherish. Between 2018 and 2021, my core friends moved away from the area I live in. So basically I’ve been on a two-year journey to figure out this “building community in adulthood” thing that vexes so many people.
Through my little club, I’ve learned more about East African food, Korean American food, Palestinian food and different cooking techniques. Our group of about 15 people come from diverse backgrounds, and we share delicious homemade meals, laughs, silly gossip and our personal connections to the cultures we highlight each month. — Candice Norwood, reporter
I read, and loved, many queer YA books this year. If you’re an LGBTQ+ adult, these books are so healing for your inner child. As a kid, I was captured by tales of fantasy, adventure and self-discovery. Now I’m returning to those fantasy worlds and can see myself reflected in those stories. My favorites: “The Heartbreak Bakery” by A.R. Capetta, “The Darkness Outside Us” by Eliot Schrefer, “The Spirit Bares Its Teeth” by Andrew Joseph White, and “The Honeys” by Ryan La Sala. — Orion Rummler, LGBTQ+ reporter
I took refuge in books this year — reading more than I have in years — especially books by queer and trans authors. “Light from Uncommon Stars” by Ryka Aoiki wove such an engrossing story that included a trans musician, aliens and a pact with a demon. Reading “Pageboy” by Elliot Page, I was struck by how much vulnerability it took to share the stories of his childhood, the people he’s loved, and the unique experience of being trans in Hollywood. Sabrina Imbler blew me away with their ability to weave the stories of goldfish, whales and cuttlefish with the story of their life in “How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Sea Creatures.” The chapter on Jacob Riis beach felt like a love letter to a place I hold near and dear to my heart. — Andrea Atehortua, product operations manager
I keep coming back to C. L. Clark’s “Magic of the Lost” series as one of my most memorable reads. It’s rare to pick up books in which so many aspects of my identity are mirrored back — nevermind the difficulty in finding genuine enemies-to-lovers arcs. The trilogy is a love story about two butches trying to create a world where everyone can thrive, and the books grapple with resistance to colonialism and reintegrating cultural identity. It is also written by a real-life sword lesbian. There are no cliffhangers between books, and the final installment is out next year. — Jasmine Mithani, data visuals reporter
Emily King, En Vogue, TLC, Deborah Cox, Janelle Monáe, Meshell Ndegeocello, Corinne Bailey Rae, my first Sofar Sounds show and BEYONCÉ made 2023 one of my favorite years for live music. My partner and I saw shows in three cities — my hometown of Chicago, New Orleans and our new adopted city, Indianapolis. Not being a Chicagoan for the first time in more than 20 years has meant a chance to redefine myself and rediscover the things I love most. This year cemented that live music is one of them, wherever life takes me. — Karen Hawkins, story editor
In 2009, when my little sister was born, I was already two albums into Swiftie fandom. Over the past few years, Rhea, now 14, has also become a Swiftie. We have 12 years between us, but Taylor Swift and her music have become common ground.
This year, we had a Taylor Swift-themed sleepover, attended the Eras Tour (and movie), FaceTimed on the release of “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” and “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” and scream-sang “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” in my car at least a dozen times.
Taylor’s music, and her experience coming of age in the public eye, have created space for conversations with my sister about self-worth, misogyny, slut shaming, independence, mental health, love and heartbreak. I must say, this era of Taylor Swift, the one I get to experience with my sister, is by far my favorite. — Marissa Nelson, events producer
This year, I loved bonding with my friends over a shared passion for music and discovering new artists. Other than Taylor Swift, two talented emerging singer-songwriters, Maisie Peters and Alana Springsteen, stand out in encapsulating my year both in music and my life. They don’t take the men they sing about — or themselves — too seriously. But their albums released this year remarkably capture falling in and out of love with friends and boyfriends, navigating mistakes, women’s anger and growing into who you’re meant to become in your 20s. Seeing them both in concert with my girlfriends made those messages that much more special. — Grace Panetta, politics reporter
“Hi, alllllllll!” Nothing delighted me more than watching (and rewatching) “Our Flag Means Death.” Each episode offered the perfect mix of sweet queer romantic period comedy in just 30-ish minutes. It was hard to predict how the show would rebound in its second season, but it thankfully remained the tender reprieve my brain and heart needed this year. — Alexandra Smith, audience director
Now in its fourth season, Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” is nothing short of a masterpiece. These women perform the role as no one ever has before.
Episode four of the current season featured “center snowflake” Lisa Barlow in hysterics because she did not want to participate in a drag competition judged by Trixie Mattel because it would mean having to do her own makeup and not use a glam team she had flown out for the occasion. This scenario ultimately resulted in her breaking the fourth wall and crying to a producer brought in to defuse the situation, “It’s my f***ing face!”
Put it in the Louvre. I have watched this one clip more times than I will ever admit to on the record. It put the “real” in “Real Housewives.” — Jennifer Gerson, reporter
Nothing has come close to depicting the complex relationship between gentrification and immigration like Monica Sorelle’s debut feature “Mountains.” Set in rapidly gentrifying Miami, the film follows a Haitian demolition worker who must grapple with the consequences of his actions and the changing neighborhood around him. Beautifully shot by Javier Labrador Deulofeu and filled with wonderful cultural details by Sorelle and co-writer Robert Colom, “Mountains” not only gives an intimate look at a Miami that we rarely see but also one that politically resonates with so many immigrant communities. The film is currently on the festival circuit, but fingers crossed it gets a wide release soon. — Wynton Wong, multimedia events producer
With more new TV than we know what to do with, why watch something that started more than 15 years ago? Somehow, rewatching all seven seasons of “Mad Men” — which began airing in 2007 — was one of my defining cultural highlights of 2023, a source of comfort and delight.
I remembered the show’s emphasis on gender, particularly on the pressures and expectations an ever-changing society puts upon women, and its carefully constructed narrative arcs and motifs. But I had forgotten how frequently my own beat comes up in the show — birth control makes an appearance in the very first episode. I was also delighted to remember just how funny it is. Whether you’ve seen the show a million times or never at all, 2024 is a great time to give it another go. — Shefali Luthra, health care reporter
Reports that Turner Classic Movies’ future was in jeopardy led Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson to come to the network’s defense and me to pay particular attention to its lineup. For far too long, I’d only known the late film star Joseph Cotten as a villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film “Shadow of a Doubt” and a hero in the 1944 film “Gaslight.”
With help from TCM, Criterion Collection, Plex and YouTube, I spent some of my downtime this year watching Cotten showcase his range in films including “Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Third Man,” “A Blueprint for Murder” and “Portrait of Jennie.” Cotten died in 1994, but viewing this underrated actor’s performances — he never won an Oscar — was a 2023 highlight. — Nadra Nittle, education reporter