Chocolate cupcakeNew Year’s Eve has never been my favorite holiday. I’m not sure why… perhaps because January ranks dead last in my hierarchy of favorite months and its imminent arrival is now only a day away. Or, perhaps it is because New Year’s Eve marks the end of my favorite time of year. For some reason, it’s just not a day that I’ve ever really enjoyed, and let’s face it: I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type, and staying up until midnight has never been my strong suit. Never mind the unavoidable debauchery that is likely to leave you wearing someone else’s drink if you attempt to venture out to into the public.

I decided to change that this year, and made a conscious decision to make my New Year’s Eve a great day. After all, there is absolutely no reason why my track record of ho-hum New Year’s Eves must preclude me from having a great one, right? Chalking the day up to yet another disappointing end to the year would be a self-fulfilling prophecy and these days I am all about self-fulfilling prophecies, but only if they are positive. And so, I was determined to create a memorable experience for myself on this December 31st.

I left my apartment at about 7:50 this morning to meet some of my running girlfriends for our usual Saturday morning five-to-six-mile loop through downtown Des Moines, around Gray’s Lake (just south of downtown), and along the river. After our group run, my friends saw me back to Grand Avenue and we parted ways: they headed back towards home, and I embarked on my journey in search of the city’s best cupcake. I ran west on Grand Avenue, up and down hills and through neighborhoods of beautiful homes that I might one day be able to afford if only I could figure out how to save 100 percent of my earnings for the next twenty years. The street numbers got higher, the hills bigger, and I sweatier, but thoughts of The Cupcake kept me going. I reached historic Valley Junction after about five and a half more miles and headed south on 5th Street… only a few more blocks remained. I had timed it perfectly- my destination opened at 10:00 and I arrived at 9:52, just as the manager was opening the door to the beautiful antebellum-esque (for the Midwest, anyway) house that is Carefree Patisserie.

Carefree Patisserie

Carefree Patisserie in Valley Junction, West Des Moines.

I walked inside to a quaint boutique of baking supplies and accessories, cookbooks, and a case of artfully decorated cupcakes of all flavors and colors. Decisiveness has never been my strength, and having just run twelve miles to get to Carefree Patisserie, the “one of each” approach was tempting, though likely a choice I would have later regretted. I decided that my best strategy would be to ask the manager for her recommendation. I mentioned that I was going for something with chocolate, and she replied by asking whether I like Nutella. First of all… what kind of question is that? Who doesn’t like Nutella? Certainly no one I can trust. And a chocolate cupcake filled with Nutella and topped with cocoa buttercream icing and a piece of solid milk chocolate? Sold! To the smelly lady for two dollars and fifty cents.

The manager carefully placed my cupcake on a plate and showed me to a table. Sitting in her store in my sweaty running clothes with disheveled hair, I somehow felt slightly more civilized eating my cupcake with a fork. That little treat was quite possibly the best cupcake I have ever had in my entire life. I savored every bite, grateful that I had made the trek out to Valley Junction for such a sweet little piece of heaven.

As I ran the six miles back home, thoughts about the past twelve months wandered through my head. 2011 was a tumultuous year for me, filled with tremendous change and tests of my strength and resilience. When I see some of the real struggles that people go through, I realize that I am incredibly fortunate and really have nothing to complain about. Still, in my own little world, there were times throughout the last year when I really questioned whether I would pull through; times when that old adage, “this too shall pass,” seemed like nothing more than good old-fashioned b.s.

The reality is, whether or not anything has truly passed, I have pulled through, because I am still here. It is December 31st, and I have survived the most difficult year of my life. I am alive, I am healthy, I have a great job, I live in a wonderfully underrated city, I have amazing family and friends, and I just ran 17.7 miles and stopped along the way to eat the best damn cupcake I’ve ever had. How many people can say that? And… as if that weren’t enough, it’s over 50 degrees in Des Moines today, and I ran in shorts for the first time ever on New Year’s Eve. That is what I call icing on the (cup)cake.

Happy new year, and thank you for reading!

Enjoying my Nutella-filled cupcake before heading back home.

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