a virtual coffee date

Last week, one of my favorite bloggers — Whitney at sometimes.always.never — wrote a post about what she would talk about if you sat down for a cup of coffee together. I loved getting a peek into her thoughts and life at the moment. I’ve been feeling a bit scatterbrained this week, with lots of projects and ideas competing for space inside my head, so this type of post was calling to me. I wish I could sit down and have a real coffee date with all of you! I guess a virtual one will have to do for now.

So, brew a mug of your favorite coffee or tea {I’m currently obsessed with the Harney & Sons hot cinnamon spice black tea that my mom got me for Christmas}, get cozy, and let’s chat.

I would probably suggest a coffee date at my new house so I could show you around. There are still plenty of boxes to unpack and pictures to hung up, but the “bones” of our new home are settled in and the space is feeling more and more cozy and familiar. I’d give you a little tour and then we’d sprawl out together on the couch in the living room, which is perhaps my favorite room of the whole house and the perfect place to curl up with a book. I love the fireplace and the natural light!

I would tell you about how my mom came to visit last weekend and how spending time with her nourishes my soul. One of the joys of growing up is feeling more on a “peer-to-peer” or “friend-to-friend” level with your parents. I love talking with my mom about marriage, running a household, work-life balance… basically I try to pick her brain as to how she manages to be so dang amazing. I feel incredibly lucky to have her as my mom! She booked her trip to coincide with our move and she was a HUGE help in getting things organized and moving in some new-to-us family furniture. {Even though she was sick with a cold — she’s such a champ.} My aunt Annie is moving soon and she generously gave us a bunch of pieces, including some beautiful rugs, a coffee table, and a professional wooden desk that I still can’t quite believe is mine!

Speaking of the desk, I would tell you about how my incredible husband does.not.give.up. The desk is BIG and at first, it seemed like it would just  b a r e l y  not fit through the doorjamb into the room we’ve designated as an office. We tried turning it around various ways and tried fitting it through the doorway at various angles, but nothing was working. The desk kept getting stuck partway through the doorway. Mom and I were ready to throw in the towel. “I’ll be fine with the old desk,” I said, even though my heart felt disappointed.

But no. Allyn was convinced that there was a way it would work. Eventually, he turned the desk vertically and was able to wiggle it through the doorjamb. Success! Mom and I could not believe it. All it took was some clever thinking and rethinking, determination not to give up too soon… and a screwdriver take the door off its hinges! There is definitely a life lesson in that experience.

{Right about now I would take a sip of my tea and confess to you that I was pretty dang nervous about detaching and reattaching the office door. But it worked out great! The door is good as new and my new desk is happily in place under the window.}

I would tell you how wonderful it was to see my mom, but that it highlighted how much I miss my dad and brother, and how I can’t wait to see them both in April to cheer on Greg as he runs the Boston Marathon! He just amazes me and makes me so proud. April is going to be an incredibly busy month, filled with exciting travel plans and lots of friend + family time. I am gearing up!

I would tell you how my new collection of short stories WOMAN, RUNNING LATE, IN A DRESS has officially been released into the world and it is surreal and scary and thrilling and hopeful to think of people reading my words and feeling transported into these characters’ lives. Holding the book in my hands still gives me goosebumps. People have already said some really nice things about it, which also gives me goosebumps. If you’d like a copy, you can snag one here! I would be delighted to sign it for you, too. 🙂

I would tell you how I’m developing a new program for people who want to grow more confident in their writing skills, work on writing projects that are important to them, and generally become better, happier, more productive writers! If we were drinking coffee together in person, I would ask you a bunch of questions. Virtually, if you have 5 minutes to share your insights with me on this survey, I would be SO grateful! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Z9LMJ8P

I would tell you how I’m loving the longer daylight hours, even though it has been a bit tougher to get up in the morning this week. I would rave about this recipe and this song and I would let you borrow this book, which I devoured in two days. We would eat some homemade pumpkin muffins and I would tell you about my ongoing quest to quit sugar and how it’s going fairly well. I’ve definitely scaled back, and there’s no more mindless sugar-snacking going on, but sometimes a girl just needs a square or two of dark chocolate. And that’s okay.

I would ask you about your family and your circle of friends, about what you’re loving and what you’re craving, about your dreams big and small, in this precious season of life you are journeying through.

And then we’d pour some more coffee or tea, and keep talking. Because nothing warms the heart like some good conversation.

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I’m raising my mug of warm cinnamon spice in a toast to you right now. Sending you so much love and a great big hug. Let me know what you’re up to in the comments below!


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about these questions:

  • What is something you are really excited about in your life right now? What are you looking forward to in the future?
  • What books/songs/movies/recipes are you currently obsessed with?
  • What is one thing you have discovered lately — about yourself, about others, about the wider world?
  • Is anything lying heavy on your heart right now? Write it down. Let it out.

packing {and unpacking} boxes

The past few weeks, my life has smelled like cardboard and permanent marker. My ears have filled with the loud riiiiip of packing tape, the crinkle of bubble wrap and paper. My hands have gotten so practiced at unfolding and putting together boxes that I could sleepwalk and wake up in the middle of the living room, cardboard box before me, assembled and waiting to be filled.

I don’t think of myself as much of a consumer. I don’t really enjoy shopping, either in physical stores or online, and I hate waste. I try to use up what I have before I buy a replacement. For Christmas and birthdays, Allyn and I like to give each other experience gifts rather than material items.

And yet… as we were packing our entire life together into boxes, we kept looking at each other and asking the same question: How do we have so much stuff??

Our river of possessions seemed never-ending. Right after we signed the lease on our new place and had set our moving date, I began to pack. I was excited about our move and wanted to get a jump on things. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I severely underestimated how much work — how many boxes — it would take to get us out of our apartment and into our house. I began with the bookshelf and linen closet, packing up items we wouldn’t need for a few weeks. After a couple days, I was floored at the number of boxes that were already piled up around our living room. And I hadn’t even finished clearing out the entire bookshelf yet! It looked as if I had hardly packed anything.

When you are packing up to move, an amazing thing happens. You are forced to sort through the cobwebbed corners of your life — your junk drawer, the back of your closet, under your bed. You rediscover things you had completely forgotten about. You find things you thought you had lost. {My lonely sock now has a pair! My favorite strapless bra is back in rotation!} You need to go through every single item in your life and evaluate: is this something I need? Is this something I use? Is this something that, as Marie Kondo writes in her lovely book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, sparks joy?

Ordinarily, it might be easy to lie to yourself. To say, “Oh yes, I use that thing. Or I might use it. One day. Sometime. Maybe.” And to put it back inside the junk drawer, wedge it back under the bed, to wait for some indeterminate future that probably will never come. But when you are packing up to move, the stakes are higher. Each item takes up space in a box that you will lug out of this life and into the next. It is much easier to be honest with yourself. It is much easier to let things go.

Allyn and I try to make it a habit to let go of things in our normal routine. We keep a “to donate” bag in our closet and every other month or so, we fill it up and take it to Goodwill. If you had asked me before we began packing, I would have told you that I didn’t really have any items that I didn’t love and use on a regular basis.

And yet. Somehow, in the process of packing, I managed to fill up three paper grocery bags with clothing I realized I hadn’t worn in ages and likely would not wear again, plus a dozen kitchen items that we hardly ever use and will not miss. There were at least two-dozen books from our bookshelf that found themselves inside the library’s donation bin rather than inside our moving boxes. And even more stuff got recycled or thrown away — random bits and bobs that we couldn’t remember the purpose of, expired bottles in our medicine cabinet, papers that I’d saved for no reason I could now discern.

Packing up all of these boxes made me think of the metaphorical boxes in our lives, the ones that live inside ourselves. The ones we have been filling up, quietly and steadily, throughout our entire lives. Boxes of memories and ideas. Boxes of priorities and dreams. Boxes and boxes of beliefs — about ourselves and about others, about what we can and cannot do, about what we are capable of and what we are made of, about what we love and hate and need and fear.

How often do we sift through these boxes? How often do we examine all the things we have packed away inside ourselves? How often do we unwrap each thought or memory or belief, hold it up to the light, and ask ourselves if it is still serving us? If we want to pack it back up and carry it with us? Or if perhaps it might be time to let it go?

For many of us, I think the answer is never. Or rarely. Or perhaps once or twice, a long time ago.

I think far too often, we hold all of these heavy boxes inside ourselves without even thinking about them. We don’t even remember what is inside of them. And yet, their contents impact our lives so deeply. We feel tired or bored or frustrated or angry. We feel like we’re not good enough or worry that we’re never going to “measure up” or compare ourselves to the highlight reels of others and feel discouraged. We look to the outside for answers when really the answers have been inside of us all along, sealed in bubble-wrap, nestled against our hearts.

We need to be very careful about what we pack into those boxes. We need to be vigilant about what we hold in our most vulnerable places.

I’ve realized that this process isn’t just something to be done when I’m moving. Both for my material possessions, and for my inner thoughts and beliefs, this needs to be something I do routinely. Look around at my surroundings, study the items on my shelves and in my cabinets, and ask myself,

Is this something so valuable to me that I would pack up into one of my boxes and schlep it with me into the future?

If no, then I need to let it go. Not tomorrow, or next week, or sometime in the indeterminate future. But right now. There is no reason to carry that extra weight for any longer than necessary.

I’ve noticed a crazy thing when I ask this question in regards to my internal boxes. When my answer is no, and I let go of something that is limiting me, then I immediately feel lighter. Which makes sense. When I let go of something, my box is less heavy. So I feel lighter. Just like real-life boxes.

However, when I answer this question with a resounding YES — yes, this belief or memory or idea or thought-pattern is serving me, is nurturing me, is helping me show up in this life as my best self — and I pack it back up into my heart space, something miraculous happens. Yes, I am filling up my internal boxes, but I do not feel heavier at all. I feel lighter.


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as jumping-off points for some free-writing:

  • When was the last time you moved? Were you surprised about anything you found when you were packing?
  • Unpack your heart space a little. What thoughts, beliefs, ideas do you find? Which ones are serving you? Which ones are not?
  • Looking around at your physical space, is there anything that does not “spark joy”? What do you think would happen if you let it go?

saying goodbye to our apartment

For the past two years, Allyn and I have lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I can still vividly remember the day we signed the lease and got the keys and unlocked the front door for the first time, stepping across the threshold like we were venturing into a bright new future.

Our new apartment was small, but to us it seemed like a castle. It was our very own home — a home we would build together. I can remember how excited I was at the idea of regular, everyday life with my sweetheart: unloading groceries in our fridge, cooking dinner in our kitchen, snuggling up together on our couch to watch a movie on a Saturday night {never mind that, when we first moved in, we did not yet have a couch.} All of those everyday-life couple-y things seemed, to me, like miracles. Like gold. Up to that point, our everyday routine meant juggling our lives and our schedules between his place and mine — which wasn’t even really “my” place, as I was living with my grandparents. We drove forty minutes to see each other for date nights and felt lucky to get two days in a row with each other. I treasured the weekends, when I could wake up to his sleepy smile.

Now, I get to wake up to his sleepy smile every day and fall asleep to his arms around me every night. I do my best to remember what it was like before I had this gift. I do my best to treasure it and treat it like the gold it is.

I remember leaving my grandparents’ house on the morning of Moving Day, feeling revved up as I climbed into my packed-up car. I was sad to say goodbye to my grandparents, even though I was so excited to be moving in with Allyn, and even though I knew I could come back and visit anytime. I always get sad at goodbyes, even when they are good goodbyes. My new apartment was only half an hour away, but I felt like I was driving across space-time as I navigated the two-lane canyon road from my old town to my new town. It was a sunny day, a perfect fresh beginning. Rarely in life do we have such clean-cut new chapters, but this was one of mine.

Moving Day was more of an ordeal than I expected it to be. How did we get so much stuff? The movers kept unloading boxes and unloading more boxes. Allyn’s mom and sister came to help, and I remember looking around our new living room crammed with Jenga towers of boxes, feeling overwhelmed yet also thrilled. It was real! It was happening! That first day, we focused on the important things: making the bed, getting our Internet and cable up and running, unpacking our new dishes in the kitchen. Allyson thoughtfully brought us toilet paper and paper towels. I remember scurrying around from room to room, thinking, Our kitchen! Our bathroom! Our bedroom! Our balcony!

That night, we celebrated with Mexican food. Then Allyn and I made the first of many Target runs to get essentials we had forgotten about: trash cans, a dish rack, hooks to hang our towels in the bathroom. That night, falling asleep together in our not-yet-familiar bedroom, listening to the new sounds of our fridge humming and our neighbors shifting the floorboards, I made a wish that this new chapter would be everything I hoped it to be, and more.

As excited as I was to move in with my sweetheart, I was also a little nervous. I knew from past experience that this was the make-it-or-break-it time of a relationship. This was where you truly got to know each other’s earthy roots and tangled messes, quirky annoyances and stubbled shadows. Previously, I had made a promise to myself that I would never again get engaged without living with the person first. When you live together, you can’t hide from each other. I was pretty sure that Allyn wasn’t hiding anything from me — that I knew him as well as I thought I did — and yet, I kept thinking of my ex, whose anger issues only emerged when we moved in together and he began to fully relax into himself around me. Of course, I wanted Allyn to be his full self around me, just as I was my full self around him. But I hoped that would still be the sweet, kind, and gentle man that I had fallen in love with.

Also, I hoped that I didn’t have any annoying habits that would make him stop loving me.

I clearly remember waking up that first morning in our new apartment, buzzing with energy about all of the clear-cut tasks before us: boxes waiting for us to unpack them, drawers and shelves waiting to be filled. Allyn used our new kettle to boil water for coffee and tea. We didn’t yet have a couch so we set up two camping chairs and sat in them as we ate our cereal out of bowls. The sun shone brightly through our new windows. There was such a sweet simplicity to our new life together. It almost felt like we were on vacation. Playing house. I wondered when it would sink in, when it would feel truly real.

It was only a couple weeks later that we went away to the Russian River together to celebrate our two-year dating anniversary, and Allyn got down on one knee and asked me to live with him forever. By that time, our new apartment already felt like home and our new life together already felt solid and stable and ours. I was not worried anymore that some secret part of him would emerge out of the shadows. I knew him, really knew him — in truth I always had, from our very first date. Allyn has this beautiful open-heartedness, this authentic spirit, that I trusted immediately. He had never been anything other than himself. We had only been living together for a couple weeks, yet I knew all that I needed to know. I said, “Yes!” with tears streaming down my face and pure joy filling my heart. Already, we were entering into another brand new chapter together.

In the past two years, I have indeed learned some quirks about my sweetie… that have only made me love him more. For dessert, he eats sour gummy candy out of a giant zip-lock bag like a twelve-year-old. He gets flustered when the dishwasher is only half-full and feels like there is no more room to put any dishes. He always hangs his towel up right away; hums when he is getting ready in the morning; always cuts food on the cutting board, never on a plate. We have an ongoing debate about the merits of the ice-cream scooper. {I believe it is perfectly acceptable to use a regular spoon to scoop ice cream from the carton; Allyn believes the spoon will get bent and insists on the scooper.} He is the sweetest and most attentive plant-waterer I could imagine.

This little apartment has been the perfect home for us in this season of life. It is crazy to think of how much has changed since we first moved here. In this cozy little apartment, we’ve woven our lives and dreams together. We put together a bookshelf and put up shelving and hung pictures. We planned our perfect-for-us wedding and celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary. We helped each other through career ups-and-downs, holding hands through the uncertainties and uncorking the Martinelli’s when Allyn got his full-time job working in the environmental department of the City of San Jose, and when I learned that my collection of short stories is going to be published. We fed friends around the dinner table and baked birthday cakes and even, at the last minute, hosted this past Christmas dinner {I wasn’t strong enough post-surgery to go anywhere else, so the meal & the people came to me!} Inside these walls, we have cuddled and talked and argued and laughed and loved each other through it all. In short, this apartment has been the sacred space where we have grown from two people into two roommates into one family.

We will be sad to leave this apartment. But also, we are ready. I remember, in first grade, reading a picture book about a hermit crab who outgrew his shell. He looked and looked and eventually found a new shell, which he decorated and made into his own. Then, a little while later, he outgrew that one too. It was time to move on and find his next-bigger shell. I think of that hermit crab, and he reminds me not to give into my resistance to change. That we need to let go of the shells we have outgrown, or else we will stop growing. That we can say goodbye to our cramped, too-small shells with love and gratitude in our hearts. That stepping forward into the next chapter of our lives does not mean that we will forget the chapters that came before.

Allyn and I are ready to live in our own home, with a yard and a guest bedroom and no shared walls with neighbors. As much as I love my little writing corner currently wedged in between the TV and the sliding glass door to our balcony, and as nice as it is to be steps away from the kitchen and bathroom throughout my workday, I am looking forward to having “a room of one’s own” — an office of my own that is not part of our living room space. Perhaps most of all, we are excited to move closer to Allyn’s work, shortening his long daily commute by an hour a day! It will be such a gift to have him home earlier each evening.

So we find ourselves circling back to the beginning. Our apartment is once again filled up with Jenga towers of boxes. We are once again preparing to step across the threshold into a bright future, with hope in our hearts that our new home will be filled with tenderness and grace, beautiful dreams and lovely surprises, new learning and growth.

At the end of Eric Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab, the hermit crab leaves his too-small shell in search of a new home:

The ocean floor looked wider than he had remembered, but Hermit Crab wasn’t afraid. Soon, he spied the perfect house–a big, empty shell. It looked, well, a little plain, but…

“Sponges!” he thought. “Barnacles! Clown fish! Sand dollars! Electric eels! Oh, there are so many possibilities! I can’t wait to get started!”

Goodbye, sweet apartment. Thank you for holding us, for shaping us, for bearing witness to our lives these past two years.

Hello, new house. We can’t wait to get started.


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • Write about a home that has meant a lot to you. What memories did you make there? What did you learn while living there–about yourself, about your relationship, about other people?
  • Do you embrace change, or avoid change? Why do you think you feel this way about change? What are some changes in your life you have faced? Did they turn out the way you expected?
  • Imagine unpacking a box from your childhood bedroom. What are some items you would unpack? What would those items mean to you now, in your present life?

“clean out the pantry” zucchini muffins

Hi everyone! Hope your week is off to a fabulous start! Allyn and I are deep in the process of packing up our lives to move to our new house this coming Saturday! Where does the time go??

I have made it my personal mission to clean out our kitchen cupboards by using up as many ingredients as possible in our meals this week. By far, my favorite improvised recipe has been these zucchini-banana muffins, which I have dubbed “clean out the pantry” muffins because they enabled me to polish off a huge container of rolled oats, bags of flour and sugar, AND use up a zucchini and banana that were on their last legs! For some reason, finishing off almost-empty containers of ingredients makes me feel ridiculously satisfied, and doing so right before our move has increased my excitement level by tenfold. Muffins for the WIN!

I’ll definitely be making these babies again, even when I’m not trying to clean out our pantry. 🙂 They are perfectly moist, with a hint of sweetness, and give me a boost of energy to power through the morning. I especially love them topped with peanut butter!

The only thing I neglected to do, in my packing daze, was to snap a photo. You’ll just have to use your imagination. I hope you make these for yourself — and if you do, you can post a photo in the comments and help a girl out!

“clean out the pantry” zucchini-banana muffins

1 cup flour {I used a mixture of spelt & white whole wheat flours}
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 medium ripe banana, mashed {about 1/2 cup}
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup turbinado sugar {you can use more if you would like a sweeter muffin}
1 large egg
1/3 cup melted coconut oil, cooled to room temperature {or canola or vegetable oil}
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup shredded zucchini
optional add-ins: chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with paper cups or grease well.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour(s), oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and shredded coconut.
3. In a large bowl, combine mashed banana, yogurt, sugar, egg, coconut oil, and vanilla. Stir until well combined.
4. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir gently until incorporated.
5. Squeeze the zucchini in a paper towel to remove excess liquid. Fold the zucchini into the batter.
6. Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full with batter. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

house-hunting lessons

As I mentioned in a previous post, Allyn and I have been planning to move into a larger space. For the past two years, our one-bedroom apartment has been the perfect cozy little home for our growing lives. But now, it is feeling cramped. We’ve known for a while that when our apartment lease is up this March 1, we want to move. So, aiming to give ourselves plenty of time, we began our house-hunting journey the last weekend of January.

We started out that Saturday full of energy, excitement and optimism. We were going to find Our Perfect Home in Our Perfect Location and we were going to Find it Immediately! Yet, by the end of that first day, we were both feeling a little disappointed. The first house we saw was in a lovely location, but the house itself was pretty run-down. The kitchen was tiny, and we’d have to buy a washer and dryer. The second house we saw was easy to cross off our list: not the best location, and in even worse condition than the first house. The third place was our favorite — we loved meeting the owner, and the house itself was cute and seemed well cared for, plus a washer and dryer was included. But the location was not ideal for us.

It was a classic case of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” No house was perfect. We joked, driving home, that all we needed to do was move House #3 to the location of House #1 and we’d be all set.

The next weekend, we made appointments to see more possibilities. The townhouse was less expensive, but we weren’t sure if we wanted shared walls — something that has been problematic at times about apartment living. Another house was very nice and had been recently renovated, but they wanted tenants to move in immediately, and we were hoping to move at the end of the month. Another place was on the corner of a busy, noisy street. The kitchen was gorgeous, but the bedrooms were tiny.

House-hunting revealed so much of how our brains work and the games they play with our emotions. First of all, we quickly realized that there is no One-and-Only Perfect Home out there waiting for us. {Or, if there is, we aren’t willing to put in months of house-hunting to find it. We need to move out in March.} Every place we saw had its positives and negatives. And our brains — my brain, at least — loved to go into comparison mode. Each house we saw, my brain would worry itself over the “flaws” and less-than-perfect components, comparing this Actual House with an Imagined Ideal House that existed nowhere other than my mind. My brain loved to insist,

But wait, what if Imagined Ideal House does exist somewhere in the real world? What if it is the next house around the corner, the one we will find next week, or the week after that? What if we give in and sign a lease, but then our true Perfect Home pops up on Zillow and it’s too late?

It was a prime example of Fear Of Missing Out. The lure to continue searching reminded me of gambling — always hoping to win bigger next time. Allyn and I could have kept house-hunting forever, searching for that elusive ideal. But, as the saying goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” We also didn’t want to hedge and hesitate on applying to rent a home we really liked, and miss out when someone else swooped in and rented it before we got our act together.

That happened to us with one property — which, looking back, I do not think would have been the best fit for us — but, when we found out it was no longer on the market, it was amazing how quickly all of those “flaws” disappeared and our FOMO was replaced by panic that we would never find any home to rent in time, that everything was being scooped up and we were too late. It is so easy to fall into a scarcity mindset. We had to remind ourselves to take deep breaths and have faith that we would end up in the right place for us. That the pie is big enough for everyone to get a slice.

My brain can contradict itself so fitfully. In the direct opposite of insisting that there was always a Better House Out There, waiting in the next Zillow email, my brain also loved to immediately get emotionally attached to each house we saw by imagining myself living there — only this was not Actual Me, this was Ideal Me. I would focus on how much I wanted the huge yard of House #1 so I could plant an enormous garden, because my Ideal Self is an avid gardener, even though in reality the only plants I seem able to keep alive are succulents. Or, my brain would fixate on how the townhouses had a pool, and we could go swimming there all the time, even though our current apartment has a pool and I have used it approximately three times in two years, because in reality swimming is not my favorite activity and the pool is always cold. Or, I would think about how House #4 was right by a nature trail, and I could go walking there every morning before I start my work. Which is a lovely idea, but not the most important factor in choosing where to live. Because what if there are a lot of bees on the nature trail, or I find a yoga class I love and decide I want to do that most mornings instead?

It is true that I can think about my Ideal Self and use this vision as inspiration. In her book about habits, Better Than Before, Gretchin Rubin writes about how a big life change — like moving — is the perfect time to start a new habit or let go of a habit that is not serving you. Moving is like pressing the “re-set” button on your habits because your environment is changing, so your daily routines are also ripe for change. Maybe I will begin with a small vegetable garden in our new backyard and see how it goes. Maybe I will try going for a walk in the morning, before I dive into my work. Maybe I will shop at the farmer’s market; quit processed sugar once and for all; meditate in the afternoons; banish the clutter.

Allyn and I made a list of the aspects for our new place that we find most important: in our price range; a safe neighborhood; close to public transit for his commute and close to the freeway for my commute; spacious enough for us to have a little room to grow. All the rest would be icing on the cake.

When we first toured the house that would end up being Our Next Home, we didn’t see fireworks the moment we stepped in the front door. We didn’t look at each other with knowing smiles that said, “Yes. This is The One.” We didn’t immediately tell the owner, “We’ll take it!” We followed the owner through the rooms, noting and nodding and smiling, asking questions and ticking off boxes in our heads. We talked about it on the way home. And the more we talked about it, the more we liked it. No, it is not a Perfect House. But it is pretty darn near perfect-for-us, right here and right now, in this chapter of our lives.

When I think about life in our new house, I imagine getting to know our neighbors in the cute, quiet cul-de-sac. I imagine dinners al fresco out on our back patio. I imagine cooking meals in the bright kitchen and writing in the back bedroom we’ll convert into an office and hanging our stockings on the fireplace mantel in the living room at Christmas time. I imagine hosting game nights with friends, hosting my parents and my brother in our spare bedroom, hosting dinner parties and birthday parties and summer barbecues and holiday gift-exchanges. I imagine a home filled with stories and laughter, good food and good company, warmth and comfort. I imagine a home filled with love — love in every room, love in every wall, love in every nook and cranny and crevice.

I guess that is the final, and most important, lesson I learned from house-hunting. It was actually something I already knew — something I said in my wedding vows — just something it can be easy to forget in the striving and dreaming and hustle and bustle of this life.

The truth is, I could be happy in pretty much any of the houses we looked at. Wherever we live, we will make it into our home with our care, our spit-shine and elbow grease, our personal touches — and, most important, with our love for each other. As excited as we are to have a bigger space, the reality is that we could stay another year in our small apartment and I would be content. As long as I’m with Allyn, I’m home.


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • What are some lessons you have learned from the experience of searching for a new place to live, whether buying a home or renting your first college apartment?
  • Think about your “Ideal Self.” What are some differences between this ideal version of you, and your actual routines and behavior? Why are these traits “ideal” for you?
  • If you could magically adopt a new habit or drop an existing habit tomorrow, what would it be and why?

valentine’s day in six parts

I. Seventh grade.

I stand in a circle with my friends at snack break, laughing about some silly joke that no one else but us would find funny. I’m wearing my favorite red sweater and my white pedal-pushers. I scan the grassy quad, looking for The Boy I Have a Crush On, but I don’t see him anywhere. I’m hoping maybe he will give me a Valentine today. Maybe he will send me a Candy Graham. Maybe… maybe… My wishes don’t go much farther than that. Candy Grahams and smiles across the quad. To my seventh-grade self, holding hands seems the epitome of romance.

The Candy Grahams are school-sponsored Valentines. All week long, you could go to the ASB room during lunch and pay a quarter for a small square of paper, where you could write a note that will be taped to a Caramel Apple Pop and delivered during fifth period on Valentine’s Day. I bought Candy Grahams for my best friends, but I did not buy one for The Boy I Have a Crush On.

During fifth period, my heart thrums as the Candy Grahams are passed out. I receive one. When I see Erica’s familiar handwriting, my heart sinks just a little.

I receive Valentines from my parents and my Gramps. But all I can think about is the Valentine I didn’t receive. I wonder if a boy will ever ever ever want me to be his Valentine. The future seems so far away.

II. Ninth grade.

I make a Valentine’s card for The Boy I Have a Crush On {who is different from The Boy I Had a Crush On in seventh grade… um, hello, that was a lifetime ago.} Unlike in middle school, my high-school self actually talks to this boy. We are… friends? Sort of. We walk together from fourth period to lunch every day. I am hopeful that he will give me a Valentine. I decide to make him a Valentine so I will have something to give him, if he gives me one first.

During our walk from the classroom to the lunch tables, my heart pounds in my chest. I finger the Valentine in my jeans pocket. I’m wearing my favorite red tank-top and white cardigan. It is Valentine’s Day, but the magic fizzles out the closer we get to the lunch tables. As each minute ticks by, it is morphing into just a regular day. Then he says, “Bye,” heading off to join his friends, and I realize he is not going to give me a Valentine.

Erica tries to talk me out of it, but later I slip the Valentine into his locker anyway. I mean, I already made it. Why let it go to waste?

I receive Valentines from my parents and my Gramps. There is even a bouquet of cheerful sunflowers from my dad. But all I can think about is The Boy I Have a Crush On, and the Valentine I didn’t receive from him.

III. Freshman year of college.

High school seems so long ago. I am a brand-new woman. I have held hands with a boy in a darkened room while we all watched a movie. I have gone out on a date and kissed a boy. I have told a boy, plainly and clearly, my feelings for him. For the first time in my life, The Boy I Have a Crush On just might like-like me back.

This year, I receive a Valentine. It is a very sweet homemade card, accompanied by flowers and the board game Scrabble. Only it is not from The Boy I Have a Crush On. It is from A Boy I Like as Just a Friend. I have told him many times that my romantic feelings just aren’t there, but he continues his unabashed pursuit, and I am beginning to feel unsettled in addition to the sadness and guilt I already feel for hurting his feelings.

I realize that it is not only about being wanted. It is about being wanted by the person you want, too.

I put the flowers in a vase on my dresser, hoping The Boy I Have a Crush On will see them. Hoping he still might come by my room, before Valentine’s Day is over, and ask me to be his.

But, as the streetlights blink on outside the window, as evening steadily shifts into night, he does not come by my room. He does not see my flowers. On my bulletin board, I have pinned up Valentine’s cards from my mom and my dad and my brother, from Erica and Holly and Celine. Yet all I can think about is the Valentine he didn’t give me.

IV. Junior year of college.

Norwich, England. I’m studying abroad for a semester and I am in love for the first time ever. All those other Boys I Had Crushes On seem so insignificant compared to this overwhelming feeling. This is my first Valentine’s Day with a real Boyfriend. I could not be more excited. I take the bus into town and buy a giant card at Pound Land {like the Dollar Store in the U.S.} and some new tights to go with the dress I had already picked out weeks ago. Instead of chocolates, I buy my Boyfriend a case of Red Bull because it is his favorite drink.

The morning of Valentine’s Day, while he is in class, I sneak into his room and leave the card and Red Bull on his desk. A few hours later, he calls me, his voice filled with surprise at my gift. He thanks me for it, even though he says his flatmates are giving him a hard time. He always seems slightly embarrassed, around his flatmates, to be with me.

“I’ll come by at 6,” he says. “I’m taking you out to dinner. It’s a surprise.”

I am a little kid on Christmas Eve. I feel like I’ve finally found the person who loves me back, who appreciates me for who I am. Who wants to be my Valentine and wants everyone to know it. That evening, Boyfriend comes over and gives me a daffodil he picked from the fields. We ride the bus into town together. He still won’t tell me where we’re going for dinner. Walking together down the cobblestone streets, he pauses in front of a Pizza Hut. I laugh, certain he is joking.

He holds the door open. “After you, my lady.”

Heart sinking, I realize he is not joking. In the next thought, I chastise myself for being judgmental. He is taking me out to dinner! On Valentine’s Day! I should be grateful. It doesn’t matter where we go for dinner; what matters is that we are together.

Over slices of pepperoni and cheese, he confesses that he waited until the last minute to make dinner reservations and all the other restaurants in town were booked up. We laugh about it, but all I can think about is The Girl He Had a Crush On back home, the girl he told me about last week, the girl with the pretty smile and contagious laughter who occasionally sends him letters. I feel certain that, if he was celebrating Valentine’s Day with her, he wouldn’t have waited until the last minute to make dinner reservations. He would have treated the occasion as something special. He would have felt so lucky just to be out on a date with her. I feel certain that the reason we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day at a Pizza Hut is because I’m somehow not good enough.

This is the first time I’ve had this feeling, with him. It will not be the last.

V. Four years ago.

Valentine’s Day is a Saturday, and I have dinner plans with My New Boyfriend. We have only been dating for two weeks–can I even call him my boyfriend yet?– but it feels like it has been longer than that. This thing between us is bright and shiny and new, full of sparkling possibility. Yet, my feelings for him are already growing serious. He feels familiar and yet also different than any other Boy who has come before.

My New Boyfriend asks if he can make me dinner for Valentine’s Day. I tell him that would be delightful. Never before has a man other than my father made me dinner.

I am living with my grandparents, who are apprehensive about My New Boyfriend {who they have not yet met} because he is In His Thirties! {I am twenty-six. In their eyes, I am still approximately sixteen.} So I ask My New Boyfriend if he would mind picking me up for our date, saying hello to Grandma and Grandpap. I know that, as soon as they meet him, they will love him. My New Boyfriend says of course, even though this means he will have to drive forty minutes each way four separate times: to pick me up and take me to his apartment for dinner, then to drive me home and go back to his apartment at the end of the evening.

I wear a lacy pink dress and bake red velvet crinkle cookies. I write him a Valentine’s card, where I try to hold back and keep myself from gushing too much. If I have learned one thing from the Valentine’s Days in my past, it is to keep my expectations low.

My New Boyfriend picks me up, right on time, looking so handsome in a collared shirt and sweater. He has a box of toffees for my grandma, who is immediately smitten. Grandpap claps him on the back and offers him a drink. We chit-chat in the living room for a few minutes before I’m able to extricate us away from the conversation and out the front door.

Instead of taking me to his apartment, where I’ve been a couple times before, My New Boyfriend drives me to his mother’s house, which is quite possibly the most gorgeous home I have ever seen. He explains that his mother is spending the night with his sister a few towns over, and she offered up her beautiful kitchen for him to use to cook tonight’s meal. He has made a salad and roasted asparagus and salmon. It smells amazing.

Walking into the dining room to light the candles, my breath catches. He has set the table with the fancy china and silverware. At my place setting waits a box of chocolates and a card. Inside the card, he has made a word search for me–all of the words are terms and inside-jokes from our two-week courtship: my favorite yin yoga class, my dog Murray’s name, the place of our first date: Lottie’s Ice Cream Parlor.

My eyes fill with tears. I feel like I’m in a movie or a novel. I realize that I don’t have to hold myself back with this man. I don’t have to be afraid of being disappointed. He is the Valentine my seventh-grade self dreamed of: choosing me, putting in effort for me, trying to make me feel special. When he looks at me, his eyes light up. When I look at him, my heart breaks wide open.

Until now, I always thought this kind of thing happened for Other Girls in Other Lives. But now, it is happening for me.

Later, when he kisses me goodnight, all I can think about is how I hope he always wants to be my Valentine.

VI. Today.

My Husband is not making me a candlelit dinner this Valentine’s Day. It is a Wednesday, and we both won’t get home from work till after 7. Sometimes fancy homemade candlelit dinners simply aren’t practical if you have to get up for work the next morning and you want to get to bed at a decent hour. Instead, we are planning to go out to a new Thai restaurant we’ve been meaning to try.

We will exchange cards and hugs and kisses. I will remind My Husband of the crossword puzzle he made for me, our first Valentine’s Day. “Can you believe, we’d only been together for two weeks!” we’ll marvel.

“Can you believe, you drove all the way there and back, there and back, to pick me up and take me home?”

“Yeeesh. I must have really liked you,” he’ll say with a wink.

When I was in seventh grade, and ninth grade, and college, and all the years in between, I was so focused on the romantic aspect of Valentine’s Day. I dove full-force into the hearts and flowers and chocolates, the parade and performance of the day. It was almost like Valentine’s Day was a milestone when I felt pressured to prove to others — to myself? — that I was loved. And again and again, the day fell flat. But it wasn’t because I didn’t have enough love in my life. It was because I was focused in the wrong tiny sliver of the pie.

Even before I met My Husband, even when I was poking an unwanted Valentine through the slit of a locker or forcing a smile as I chewed my way through a slice of lukewarm pizza, those Valentine’s Days were not wasted. I think of that girl I was, so fully ensconced in love. I think of her and I want to tell her,

Take a step back, baby girl. Look around you. Look at your family and your friends. These are the people you are going to have with you down the road. You don’t have to be so scared. You don’t have to try to force things. The kind of love you dream about is going to come into your life soon enough. Trust in it. Trust in yourself. And don’t forget to be so grateful for all the other love around you. Don’t take those Valentines for granted.

Maybe it’s easy for me to say all of this now that I’ve found My Husband. I remember those lonely wrung-out days vividly–days when I was still searching, hoping to meet him in every busy café or grocery store aisle I wandered down. I remember feeling so anxious and unmoored, worried that I might never find my person. Wondering if I would ever have the easy comfort of a sure-and-solid Valentine love, like a worn-in pair of jeans–the comfort I feel today.

Maybe it’s because of My Husband that I’m able, now, to slough off the fear that used to eclipse the love within this holiday for me. Now, I can fully appreciate Valentine’s Day–not for its pomp and circumstance, but for its richness and depth. I love seeing the shy smiles on my students’ faces when I give them cards and candy. I love the rainbow crayon homemade Valentines they give me in return. I love bringing cookies to our across-the-hall neighbor Joyce and bringing chocolates to our 97-year-old Great Aunt Flo, seeing the pure surprised delight on their faces. I love mailing cards to my friends scattered around the country. I love reading and rereading the Valentines from my mom and my dad and my brother, displaying them on our kitchen table where I can see them throughout the day. I love buying myself flowers, if I want to, not needing to prove anything to anyone but simply because they are pretty and would brighten up the apartment.

This Valentine’s Day, I have everything my past self used to long for. The irony is that now, looking back, I realize that I had it all along.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear reader. Please tell someone you love them. And please know that you are loved and you are enough, exactly as you are.


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • What is your favorite Valentine’s memory?
  • Make a list of all the love in your life–people, animals, places, activities, it all counts!
  • Write a love letter to yourself, describing in detail all the things you love about your amazing self.

be like the ducks

No, the title of this post is not referring to the Mighty Ducks. {But you can be like them, too.}

I’m talking about literal mallard ducks. Let me explain.

This afternoon, I went on a lovely walk at the lake by our apartment — we are so fortunate to live near an amazingly gorgeous recreation area and I am trying to take full advantage of it before we move! It was a beautiful, sunny, clear winter day. The lake was so still it looked like a sheet of blue-green glass.

As I gazed down at the lake, I noticed some ripples close to the shore. Floating in the water was a cluster of ducks. One was paddling around, looking just like a toy duck floating in the bathtub. But the other two were nothing more than little duck behinds–their entire heads and necks were submerged in the water as they scrounged around for lake grub. It was a pretty adorable sight. I smiled to myself and kept walking.

At first, I thought the ducks were nothing more than a peaceful sight. But, as I walked along, my thoughts kept coming back to them. Nature was reminding me of an important lesson.

Lately, I’ve been feeling more distracted than usual. I came into 2018 feeling a little bit “behind” — I wasn’t planning on undergoing surgery at the end of 2017, and instead of launching into the new year full-throttle I eased into it slowly, letting my body and spirit recover. That was soon followed by an emergency trip to Ventura to visit my Gramps in the hospital, and then a fun trip to NYC to visit my brother. When I returned to my everyday life at the end of January, I felt like I was in full-on “catch up” mode — responding to what felt like an avalanche of emails, unpacking my bags and finally taking down the Christmas decorations, scheduling students and clients, trying to get organized.

The result? Dizzying distraction. My mind has been spinning itself silly as it bounces around a list of tasks I “need” to do or “should” be doing; no matter what I’m working on, it feels like I should be working on something else. My attention zooms from responding to an email to drafting a blog post, but before I finish I jump over to prep for a student appointment I have later, and oh wait I should probably get dinner started…

Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

And when the day is done, I’m left feeling depleted — like I’ve spent all day with my butt in the chair in front of my computer, and I don’t quite know what I have to show for it.

Yesterday as I drove home from work, I listened to an episode of The Minimalists’ podcast where they answered questions from the audience at one of their speaking events. A woman asked for advice on how to make time for priorities. “It seems like I never have time for what I most want to do,” she said. I found myself nodding along.

Joshua and Ryan’s advice was simple yet profound. Their words were exactly what I needed to hear. {Why are the simplest things often the hardest to actually implement?} They advised her to schedule in FIRST — not last — the tasks that are most important to her, that speak to her core values, that relate to her passion projects. Then she can fill the rest of her calendar with other tasks and obligations and desires. But if she leaves her own priorities until the end, they will quite possibly get left out of her day. And then they’re not really priorities, are they?

This advice reminded me of the oft-evoked metaphor of the glass jar. Imagine your day as a glass jar: your important tasks are represented by big stones, while the less-important and niggling everyday tasks are represented by pebbles and sand. If you fill your jar with sand and pebbles first, there is no way you can fit the big stones inside — there’s not enough room. But if you put the big stones in first, and then fill the rest of the jar with tiny pebbles and sand, the smaller stones will fit in around the big ones and you will be able to fill the jar to its fullest.

I need to get back into my routine of doing this. The past couple of weeks, I’ve spent most of my time on the “urgent” tasks and I haven’t been able to nourish my most important projects. In The Minimalists podcast, Joshua gave an example from his life: “Every morning, I exercise, read and write.” My heart soared with recognition: That’s what I want to do, too! That’s important to me, too! So I made a schedule. I’ve found that often my brain likes the idea of an unscheduled day — it sounds so loose, so free! — but when I actually move through my day, not having a plan makes me feel unproductive and unmoored. When I could be doing anything, I feel like I should be doing everything.

So I am tweaking my morning plan to be like this:

  • Wake up and immediately write for thirty minutes.
  • Enjoy a healthy breakfast and read for pleasure.
  • Go through my favorite 15-minute yoga routine.
  • Meditate for 3-5 minutes.
  • Go to the gym or go for a walk.

Then, once I get home from exercising, I shower and dive into my emails, daily tasks, “urgent” business, etc. I am much more happy and productive, and feel less “behind” on my day, when I have already written, read, exercised, and gotten in some heart habits like yoga and meditation. BUT all of this is easier said than done! I often feel pulled towards my email inbox and my phone throughout this morning routine. I need to force myself to stay true to my plan and to commit to these tasks that are most important to me. Stones first, then pebbles!

I am also trying to get into the habit of “batching” my work instead of jumping around from task to task. For example, I’ll work on a blog post until it is finished. I’ll edit student work for an hour without interruption. I’ll answer email for thirty minutes straight and then take a break, rather than checking my inbox every two minutes. This makes me more productive because I am much more focused.

Which brings me back to the ducks. As I was walking around the lake, I thought of how silly it would look if ducks acted like distracted humans. Imagine a duck diving down under the water, then coming up a second later, then diving down under the water again. A duck would never get anything to eat if it behaved that way!

Just as nature has taught me the wisdom of the seasons — there is a time for harvesting and there is a time for sowing; there are seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity — nature has also taught me the wisdom of focus. I want to be like the ducks, calmly contemplating the stillness of the lake. I want to be like the ducks, paddling around with my little legs when the weather is sunny and still paddling when the storms encroach. I want to be like the ducks, diving down under the surface to forage for food — not too brief, not too long — then popping back up again to float around with my buddies.


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as a jumping-off point:

  • What lessons have you learned from nature?
  • Do you have a morning routine? What does it look like? If not, imagine what would be your dream way to start the day.
  • What are the “large stones” in your jar of life? What are your big passion projects? Are you making the time for these important tasks the way you would like to be? If not, what might you change in your day to put these priorities front-and-center?

word for the year

Hi everyone! It feels so good to be back in this space, getting back into my normal routine. The past month and a half have been a roller coaster and have brought the most important things in my life front-and-center: family, friends, love, health. After the devastating Thomas Fire, my grandfather being hospitalized with pneumonia {he is, blessedly, recovering well!} and a health scare of my own that I might write about sometime, December rocked my world like no other month has besides January 2015. {I can’t believe it has been three whole years since my beautiful friend died. Love you forever, C.}

It could be tempting to enter 2018 clutching a shawl around my shoulders sewn of fear, despair, scarcity and anger. Instead, I am embracing 2018 with wide-open eyes that are seeing love, gratitude, and healing all around. I am working each day to keep my heart wide open and to witness the small moments of compassion, grace and magic that comprise our daily lives and bind us closer to one another. I am reminding myself of phoenixes rising from the ashes. I am reminding myself of all the people and love in my life who give me strength. I am reminding myself of this quote I have always loved from Ernest Hemingway:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

We are all broken at times by senseless pain and sadness. But I believe that we are stronger for these broken places. And our compassion for others is strengthened, too.

Last year, Allyn and I had a weekly ritual of writing down something we were grateful for on a slip of paper and putting it into a jar. On New Year’s Eve, we emptied out the jar and read through all of our slips of paper. I was overwhelmed by the abundance of our blessings. It is my new favorite tradition, one we are continuing this year — and I hope all the years to come.

Another new tradition I believe in is setting an intention for the year. This could be one word or a short phrase. I think of it as a mantra, a touchstone, something to come back to again and again throughout the year. Something to inspire you on the slogging days and remind you of what’s important on the hectic days. Something to center you and focus the energy you put out into the world.

Last year, my word was FOUNDATION. I wrote, “I want to work on getting the foundation of my life in order. For me, that is broken down into four main areas: my health; my relationships; my writing; my home environment.”

Looking back now, I think that setting this intention really helped focus and motivate me throughout 2017. I do feel like I have a much stronger foundation now than I did at this point last year. I established more solid workout and writing routines; I now go to the gym twice a week, go for walks on many other days, and do at least 15 minutes of yoga most every morning. And I have settled into enjoying the process of writing more than being focused on the end result that I do not control. In 2017, I finished one novel manuscript and started a new one; wrote many blog posts and short stories; and overall feel much more at peace with the actual daily process of putting words down on paper. I feel more confident in my abilities to finish what I start rather than procrastinating on my most heart-vital projects. That is a huge gift that 2017 gave me!

Motivated by foundation, I invested time and money into my health this past year, and I think that is a big reason why I was able to recover from my recent surgery so quickly. I discovered some new plant-based recipes that I adore — lookin’ at you, roasted brussel sprouts & sweet potatoes & cabbage! — and now have a regular meal-planning routine. I also read books and learned a lot about my body, my cycle, nutrition, and intuitive eating. Health can be one of the slowest areas of change; with incremental change, it can be difficult to notice improvement. But looking back, it is strikingly clear that I feel much more empowered and energized now than I did at this time last year. Health is something that it is easy to take for granted, and I am also more grateful than ever for my body and mind.

In 2017, I took more trips than ever to visit family and friends: heading to NYC multiple times, hosting Greg and Holly in our little apartment for visits, having a girls weekend with Mom, going to the James Taylor concert in SF with Dad, celebrating my dear friends Mikey & Luana’s wedding, traveling to Nashville with the fam for Thanksgiving, celebrating my 30th birthday with so many people I love, visiting my grandparents every Friday, and making more of an effort to call and email far-flung friends to stay in touch. We also made friends with our neighbors and have so enjoyed hosting each other for dinner. I hope to continue this trend in 2018 — and it is looking like my travels will certainly continue, with many trips and weddings on the horizon! During April alone I have three trips on the agenda, plus a dear friend visiting who I haven’t seen in five years! In 2018 we’ll hopefully host even more get-togethers and game nights when Allyn and I move into a bigger home. 🙂 Right now our max capacity for dinner is 4 or 5 people, including us. It will be so exciting to be able to host larger gatherings and parties.

The word “foundation” also manifested itself in unexpectedly wonderful ways. I received new teaching opportunities and my business has grown and flourished. Allyn and I have been able to pay off almost all of our student loan debt, strengthening our financial foundation. After six years of rejections, I received a phone call from Yellow Flag Press informing me that my short-story collection Woman, Running Late, in a Dress won their Cypress & Pine Short Fiction Award — it will be published in March! I can’t wait to share it with all of you. Perhaps most importantly, my relationship with Allyn has grown even more solid and nurturing. He is my rock. This past year we have taken trips together to Boulder and Santa Cruz and Monterrey, plus a staycation weekend in San Jose, and started a new tradition of monthly surprise dates. The trials of the past couple months have brought us even closer together, and I am so beyond grateful for him.

Moving into 2018, I kept thinking about how I wanted to build upon this beautiful foundation of 2017. When December hit, and it felt like a lot of what I knew and loved had been razed to the ground, I thought more about what it means to build back up again. It means being resilient and compassionate; it means grieving and remembering; it means crying and smiling, too. I kept coming back to the image of tiny seeds. They may seem unimportant, but they are vital. Seeds possess a powerful life-force. Inside them is the possibility of springing forth out of the dark soil, bursting into the sunlight, growing into something new.

My intention for 2018 is PLANTING SEEDS. In other words, I want to be a SOWER. I want to plant seeds in my writing, in my teaching, in my relationships, in my health and in my home. I want to plant seeds of optimism, joy and hope. I want to keep planting seeds even when I feel discouraged, even when it feels like I am staring at a blank canvas of dark soil without any sprouts, or when some sprouts I had hoped for die out. I want to begin again, and to keep sowing. To focus on the process of sowing and find comfort in that process. None of us can know which seeds we plant will blossom. Some seeds we plant might not even grow during our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean they never grow at all. We might plant a seed today that burrows within our souls and brings something else to light months or years from now — in ourselves, or in someone else. I have always loved this quote:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” — Nelson Henderson

I want to plant seeds that grow into solid, shade-giving trees one day. Yet I don’t want to focus on the trees themselves. I want to focus on the joy of planting.

One of my favorite artists is Vincent Van Gogh, and my brother shared this painting of his with me. I have made a print of it, which is taped above my writing desk, reminding me of my intention for the year.

I want to leave you with these photographs of an art exhibit at the Met Bruer in NYC. I did not see this exhibit in person, but that my dad saw it with Greg in 2017 and shared it with me. This piece takes up an ENTIRE huge wall and consists of 365 small individual square paintings that are combined to make a larger piece.

My dad wrote, “When I looked at it, I thought about how overwhelming it would be to imagine creating the whole thing at once. It would be a loooong few weeks or months of work! However… if the artist decided to paint just one per day, what an easy and not overwhelming — in fact, what an enjoyable — undertaking it would become!”

I think this is a great metaphor not just for art and creative endeavors, but for life as a whole. What are your big goals for 2018? What are some amazing projects, adventures, trips, and undertakings you dream about that perhaps seem overwhelming? How can you break them down, step by step and day by day, into smaller “paintings”?

Here’s to a year of planting seeds that sprout up from the soil into beautiful new life!


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free write” about these questions:

  • If you could sum up your 2017 in one word or phrase, what would it be? Why?
  • Reflect on your highs & lows of 2017. What did you love? What do you want to do differently the next time around?
  • What word or phrase will you choose for your intention in 2018? What does this mean to you?
  • What are you grateful for, right here and now?

you take home with you

I’m sure you’ve heard on the news about the wildfires sweeping through southern California. The Thomas Fire has ravaged my beautiful hometown of Ventura. It is hard to even wrap my mind around the horrific destruction of so many homes and neighborhoods. I may be physically in the Bay Area, but my mind and heart are in Ventura right now. One inspiring thing has been the way my hometown community has rallied together to support each other. Ventura has always possessed wonderful qualities of inclusion, generosity, optimism and resilience, and never have these virtues been in such strong display as they are right now. I am so proud of my hometown. #venturastrong

Please send your prayers — for our community, the people who call it home now and for those like me who may live far away but still think of it as home, for the firefighters and first responders and s/heroes working round the clock to defeat these vicious, horrendous fires.

The most important thing is that everyone is safe. Thank God for that.

But the personally devastating news, for my family, is that my 91-year-old grandfather’s home burned entirely to the ground. It is gone. This was the home that my dad, his sister, and his two older brothers grew up in. The home my grandmother picked out after the family moved cross-country, from Ohio to California, in the 1970s. The home she decorated and hosted parties in. The home she died in, twenty-five years ago, of a heart attack. The home my Gramps has lived in for 44 years.


The house is gone, just a pile of rubble and ash. But also, the house lives on in our memories. So many memories. I can close my eyes any time I want to and I can drive up to that house, which has always reminded me of a grand mansion out of an old movie, and I can park at the bottom of the driveway. In my mind, I can open the white wrought-iron mailbox to check the mail for my Gramps so he doesn’t have to walk down the narrow brick steps that evening to check it himself. I can walk up the steps, under the huge trees, across the cracked and rutted concrete driveway, past the American flag hanging from his porch banister, and up the four steps onto his front porch. I can ring the doorbell or use the iron knocker shaped like a lion’s head — knock, knock, knock! That particular sound that was only made by that one knocker on that one specific front door. In my mind, I can hear Gramps shout, “Com-ing!” and I can peer in the window alongside the door and watch him slowly climb up the steps from the family room, into the marble-floored entryway. Above him are the chandeliers that turn on with automatic timers, suffusing the hallway with golden light, and he flicks on the porch lights, which are blue. He has always had blue porch lights — the only house I’ve known with blue porch lights. In my mind, he unlocks the front door and it squeaks that particular squeak as it opens. I step inside, into his arms for a big hug. The house smells like his cinnamon bread, if he’s baked it that day. Or maybe it smells like the cleaning products the housekeeper used if she came recently. But, underneath all of that, it smells like Gramps’ house. There is no other place in the world that has this exact smell — Gramps, childhood, nostalgia, the past. My grandma. My family. It’s all here, in the air.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 9.34.13 PM

If I walk inside the house in my memory and keep going straight, I’ll enter the kitchen, with the round table and yellow-padded kitchen chairs, the table piled high with newspaper crosswords and papers and photos and cards. I remember sitting down at this table with Gramps on mornings before I left Ventura, heading off for college or grad school, when I would stop by to visit him one more time to say goodbye before I left. It was rare for me to visit him in the morning — normally it was my aunt Kay who would visit him then, walking the neighborhood with her dog Troy, and they would stop by for a cup of coffee (Kay) and a peanut-butter dog biscuit (Troy) and mostly, for a chat and a visit. I remember the soft morning light through the sliding glass door, the scent of Gramps’ coffee in the air, his reading glasses on his nose as he worked on the newspaper’s crossword puzzle. In my mind, I can sit at that table with him still. I can look at the bookshelf piled with my grandma’s cookbooks. The built-in shelves housing figurines and mugs and delicate plates that my great-grandmother painted with beautiful flower patterns. I can stand up and walk across the kitchen, take one of the plastic blue glasses down from the cupboard, and get myself some water from the fridge. I can see the fridge, covered with photos of his grandchildren, a collage of holiday cards sent over the past decade. I can see, still taped to the side, a watercolor I made in eighth grade for him of an Audrey Rose, after my grandma. Taped to one of the cupboards is a drawing of Gramps’s house that my brother did in second grade, the teacher’s handwriting proclaiming “Good job, Greggie!” On the wall, I can see a framed recipe that my cousin Rhett wrote out in elementary school, decorated with glitter glue, for Grampie’s Bread — a favorite of all of us, an Amish recipe that took ten days to make, spiced with cinnamon, dense and cakey. The version Gramps made for us was more of a cake than a bread, studded with chocolate chips. He would make the bread with craisins during the holidays. The starter living in his fridge, ready and waiting for the next batch.


In my mind, the past can come back to life again. I can stand beside the fridge with my grandma as she laughs and laughs, the freezer dispenser brokenly spewing crushed ice onto the floor. I can follow her out the sliding glass door and down the back steps into the yard, joining the rest of my cousins in the annual Easter egg hunt — hardboiled eggs outside, plastic eggs inside, Gramps dressed as the Easter Bunny. I can follow my cousins up the stairs and into the first room on the right, my dad’s old room — wood-paneled, with hundreds of tennis ball cans lined up on a shelf that trails around the room, still there from his tennis-playing days in junior high and high school — and make my way to the wooden chest at the foot of the bed. I can throw it open, sifting with my cousins through the “dress up clothes” and old Halloween costumes. The one I remember best is the Peter Pan hat. And I can follow my cousins down the blue-carpeted stairs, marching in our costumes in a giggly, giddy parade for the adults. Even though the costumes never changed, opening up that wooden chest always felt magical, filled with possibilities. I can follow Gramps through the attic up onto the roof, where my brother and I help him string up Christmas lights onto the iron latticework. I can laugh with my brother and Gramps at our puppy Gar as he makes a huge mess on the kitchen floor, splashing water as he drinks from his plastic Snoopy dog bowl. We always said that Gramps’ water must taste the best because Gar could never get enough. Even though Gar died eleven years ago, I can close my eyes and see him there still, tail wagging in Gramps’ kitchen.


I can stand beside Gramps as he chops lettuce for salad at the butcher block kitchen island covered with his Ohio State Buckeyes red towel. I can watch him stir the rice and water in his covered dish, sliding it in the microwave. I always loved his Minute rice and he always laughed and told me how easy I was to please. I can smell the popcorn he used to make when my brother and I would come over on Mondays after school, pouring the popcorn from the bag into the big plastic yellow bowl, shaking Molly McButter over the whole thing. We would sit on the couch with him in the family room and watch cooking shows — Great Chefs of America came on at 4, followed immediately by Great Chefs around the World. Often we would fall asleep curled against Gramps’ belly, my brother on one side, me on the other. Then Mom would come by and pick us up on her way home from work; on Mondays, my dad worked nights at the newspaper. Sometimes she would bring pizza or Chinese takeout and we would stay for dinner, sitting around the table in the family room, the table with the wicker base that was hollow inside, that we used to hide in as small children, all of us grandkids, before we grew too big to fit.

Now that we’re down in the family room, I can wander around a little bit. There’s the closet where Gramps & Auden used to keep toys for us grandkids when we were little. I remember the tiny books I would pick out and read with my grandma on the couch. I remember the teddy bear that talked when you pressed his paw. I remember watching Flipper the Dolphin and Yogi Bear on TV. On the wall, the clock my dad and my Uncle Doug made as teenagers out of a wooden tennis racket. The big fireplace with the painting hanging above it that my brother made, an oil painting of him and his namesake, my Gramps’ dad Ansel. In the corner, Gramps’ ancient exercise bike that he used to ride in the mornings as he watched the news. The wooden coffee table, covered so completely with framed photos of Gramps’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren that it looked like it might collapse at any moment from the weight. And the photo of my grandma on her wedding day. That beautiful hoop-skirted princess dress; her radiant smile. I can close my eyes and see it all. And a funny memory: long ago, before the coffee table was covered with framed photos, coming over to see Gramps after a family vacation when we had been away for a week or so. Our dog Gar was so excited to see Gramps that he raced down the stairs into the den, leaped over the couch, skidded across the coffee table, and landed in the fireplace. Gramps, who is infamous in our family for getting quite grouchy if you accidentally pressed the wrong button and messed up his TV remote or flicked the wrong light switch and messed up the automatic timers on his lights, said, “Oh Gar, are you okay honey?” Not mad in the least as Gar licked his face in jubilant greeting.


Off the family room is the bathroom where, in shock, I changed out of my grubby jeans and tennis shoes into the skirt and sandals my mom brought for me, when Aunt Kymmie threw a surprise bridal shower for me two summers ago at Gramps’ house. Mom drove me up there right after Summer Writing Camp, ostensibly to say hi to Gramps, and I was totally floored when I opened the front door and my friends and family jumped up from the living room and shouted, “SURPRISE!!!” That was the same living room where we hosted my cousin Amanda’s bridal shower, and where we used to have huge Christmas Eve gatherings when my grandma was alive, with a white-flocked tree and an ocean of wrapping paper, and where as kids we loved to pick at the keys of the white grand piano. That was the hushed room, the fancy room, with my grandma’s Waterford and Wedgewood, the trinkets and treasures and figurines. I remember going around the room like it was a museum, my brother and I “helping” Gramps as he cleaned and dusted everything one spring, telling us the story of each object as he placed it back in its spot. I remember the fancy Christmas dinners at the large formal dining room table, and also the meal we had there the day I came back from studying abroad for a summer in Cambridge, England, so jet-lagged I almost fell asleep right at the table. And I remember setting up the big screen and the noisy machine and sitting in chairs with Gramps in the living room, as he clicked though slides from his and Auden’s honeymoon trip to Mt. Rushmore and the early days of their marriage in NYC.

I can walk into the warm, sunlit study filled with dusty hardcover books and papers and mementos. Gramps taking the ancient family Bible down off the shelf, carefully turning the thin pages for us, showing us the family records of births and marriages and deaths stretching back through the generations. I remember the delicate script handwriting, the awed sense of history I felt as I looked at those lists, the lives pared down to columns of names and dates. The comfort, to be part of that line. It made me feel small in a good way.


Memories spill into each other– too many to record them all here. Memories stretch into memories into more memories. One of my earliest memories: climbing the stairs as a little girl up to Gramps and Auden’s bedroom. Sitting with them on their bed, facing backwards– looking out the window, watching the tree branches sway in the wind.

There were countless childhood afternoons that I took the bus home from school to Gramps’ neighborhood, trudging up the steep steep hill Via Pasito with the other neighborhood kids, our backpacks heavy on our shoulders, thumping against our backs. As we walked up the hill different kids would turn off when they reached their houses. I was always the last one left at the end. Gramps’ house was at the top of the hill. His backyard had an unbelievably gorgeous view of our town, laid out below like a quilted blanket, with the glittering ocean stretching out to the Channel Islands in the distance.

Now, so many of those homes are gone. Destroyed by fickle winds and savage flames.

But also, not destroyed completely. Maya Angelou said, “When you leave home, you take home with you.” These houses live on in all of our hearts. Our love is what made them homes– and what continues to make them so.

anticipation and remembering

When I was in college, I lived in an apartment with three of my best friends. Every year, we threw a big holiday party the weekend before winter break. Our anticipation was born right after Thanksgiving. We spent hours planning the party: sending out invitations, shopping for refreshments, deciding on party favors and music. We cut out paper snowflakes and hung them from our ceiling; we strung up twinkle-lights; one year we even managed to get a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree on super discount at a tree lot, and we decorated it until it was more tinsel than tree. I would be so excited for our party that time seemed to drag on as I tracked its glacier-slow approach on my calendar.

And then, suddenly, it was the day of the party. There was always a flurry of last-minute preparations: baking cookies, making peppermint hot chocolate, wrapping presents. Every year, the party itself passed in a blur of friends and laughter, dancing and singing, photos and hugs. Within three or four hours—the blink of an eye, it seemed—our party was over. We’d wave goodbye as our last guests headed out the door, and then my three best friends and I would be left standing in our empty apartment with a mess to clean up.

It’s hard not to feel a little sad in those moments, when all the anticipation is over, and life resumes to normal. It can feel like the magic is gone. But, looking back, my favorite memories from those holiday parties are not the parties themselves, or even all the anticipation and preparation. The memories I cherish the most are from the mornings after the parties, when my roommates and I would eat scrambled eggs—ignoring the dirty dishes and overflowing trash can for a little while longer—and talk all about the amazingly fun event we had just hosted.

Because, yes, there is joy in the anticipation. There is joy in the savoring. But there is also joy in the telling, the retelling, and the remembering.

“The world is shaped by two things: stories told and the memories they leave behind.” — Vera Nazarian