my short story “Red”

You never know how far your stories will travel.

More than half my life ago, when I was in high school, I wrote a short story titled “Red” about a girl named Grace spilling a bottle of red nail polish… and all the memories and emotions that came spilling out of her. This story was included in my self-published short story collection 3 a.m. and was later published as a stand-alone in Diverse Voices Quarterly literary magazine.

I just received a lovely DM from a teenager who lives in Germany and read my story as part of her English language workbook in school. I had NO IDEA my story was included in this workbook and I am stunned… I can’t begin to imagine how my little story written and published 15+ years ago ended up in classrooms across the globe! 🌎

Just goes to show that once you get those words inside of you down on paper and let them out into the world, you never know how far they will travel and how many readers they will reach, even months and years and decades later!

I wanted to share the story with you now — a little blast from my past, in case you are interested in reading it. Hope you enjoy!

RED

by Dallas Woodburn

Grace knocked the nail polish off her bedside table and onto the carpet and that was The End. She crouched there, as if paralyzed, watching the Maybelline “Vixen Red” soak into the white Berber, the teardrop-shaped stain slowly expanding, like blood seeping into a Band-Aid.

Grace sat there, rocking on her heels, watching and waiting. For what, she didn’t exactly know. When the teardrop stopped growing, she got up and went to the kitchen to get some paper towels.

* * *

The rain spattered softly against the car windows. Grace watched the windshield wipers dance, back and forth, forth and back, like her piano teacher’s metronome. She sat with her knees hugged up against her chin, trying to minimize the contact of her skin with the cold vinyl. “Mom,” she said. “It’s raining cats and frogs.”

“You mean cats and dogs,” her mother corrected, never taking her eyes off the road.

It was still raining “cats and frogs” when they arrived at the park. Grace stared out the car window and imagined they were inside a giant aquarium, except filled with birds instead of fish.

Her mother turned around and smiled at Grace in the backseat. “What a perfect day,” she said, “to fly a kite!” Grace could tell she wasn’t joking. Her mother never joked about important matters.

Part of Grace wanted to stay in the car, but the other part of her won out. She pulled the strings on her sweatshirt hood so tight that her face was scrunched and there was only a keyhole of an opening where the rain could get in. Then she tied the strings in a bow—double-knotted, the way Grampa had taught her so it wouldn’t come undone.

Grace tightly held her mother’s hand as they trudged together up the rain-slickened hill that overlooked the playground. She had never been to the park in the rain. It was deserted. Like a magic kingdom that belonged only to Grace and her mother. Just the two of them, and of course some fish disguised as birds. “We’ve always got each other, hon,” her mom said whenever Grace asked about her daddy. “Us girls gotta stick together. Just you and me, that’s all we need.”

That’s all we need. Just you and me. Grace squeezed her mother’s hand.

They were at the top of the hill now, and Grace peeked out her keyhole through the drizzle at the slide and the swing set, then at the picnic tables and the scattered trees, and finally at their little blue car parked alongside the curb. Her mother stood a few feet away, face turned skyward, eyes squinting against the driving BBs of water, hair streaming long and wet down her back. Grace’s clothes had grown heavy and cumbersome. All the tiny raindrops had banded together. It reminded Grace of one of her Grampa’s favorite sayings. “Take little steps, baby steps,” he told Grace whenever she was on the brink of giving up. “Baby steps have a way of adding up to a lot of big steps.”

So do raindrops, Grace thought now, wriggling inside her soggy Hello Kitty sweatshirt. Little raindrops have a way of adding up to big buckets. She wanted to take off her sweatshirt but couldn’t get Grampa’s double-knotted bow undone. Water ran off the tip of her nose, and she stuck out her tongue and caught a drop. She was surprised at how warm it tasted.

Grace’s mother held the kite with hopeful, outstretched hands. She peered up into the leaden sky as if challenging it, or maybe begging. The kite was small and diamond-shaped and painted with rainbows, which Grace’s mother said was “highly ironic.” Grace smiled appreciatively even though she didn’t know what “ironic” meant. She knew this, though: she loved kites and she loved rainbows. And, above all, she loved her mother.

The kite had a hard time getting airborne. “Mom, maybe we should go,” Grace said, holding the end of the kite string and shivering slightly, but her mother didn’t hear. Grace’s mother continued to squint into the drizzle, determined and desperate, holding the kite above her head, quietly beseeching the wind to take the tiny red diamond in its arms and raise it high. Grace knew you shouldn’t fly kites in the rain. Her mother knew this too, and yet there she stood, trying anyway. Just you and me, hon. Years later, this was what Grace most vividly remembered when she thought of her mother: eyes squinted towards the heavens, a double-knot bow that just wouldn’t come undone, and a tiny rainbow struggling against the rain to fly.

* * *

The chemotherapy started the very next week.

The second time, Grace went with her mother into The Little White Room with the hospital smell and space-age machinery. It reminded Grace of the aliens she had seen once, when her Uncle Bill let her stay up late and watch a movie with the Big Kids. Grace was scared of The Little White Room, but she went in anyway. She sat beside the bed and watched the medicine drip…drip…drip out of the IV bag, down a clear tube, and into her mother’s arm, slowly trickling inside her, becoming a part of her, like blood or bone.

Drip… drip… drip… It reminded Grace of the rain dripping off the eucalyptus trees at the park, the day she and her mother flew the rainbow kite. Grace remembered the way her mother shrieked with excitement when the wind finally swept the kite up into its arms. Grace’s heart leapt with the thrill of the kite tugging on the string. She forgot about her soggy sweatshirt and stubborn double-knot bow. She and her mother stood side-by-side, just you and me, hon, watching the rainbow dance in the gray misty rain.

“Hey Mom,” Grace said now, eyes still transfixed on the IV bag. “It’s like the rain.”

“That’s nice, honey.” But Grace could tell her mother wasn’t really listening. She didn’t watch the drip… drip… drip. Instead, she looked at Grace and asked her questions about kindergarten and play dates and Grandma and Grampa. She sounded tired.

As the treatments continued, Grace sometimes brought along pictures she drew in art class. This always made her mother smile, except for the picture of the red kite and the rain. That one made her mother cry.

One day when Grace came to The Little White Room, she brought a bottle of her mother’s nail polish, and they painted each other’s toenails. Grace was careful as could be, but she still got polish on the skin around her mother’s nails. She wasn’t very good at coloring inside the lines, but her mother said that was okay. The nail polish was red, deep red, “Vixen Red.” It was her mother’s favorite color. She said it made her feel alive. You couldn’t be dying if you had bright red toenails. It just didn’t fit the picture.

Grace believed her. We’ve always got each other, hon. Just you and me. She coated her mother’s toenails with thick layers of red, as if somehow chip-free nails could create miracles.

And then her mother died, and Grace’s eyes were Vixen Red for weeks, and she didn’t believe in miracles anymore.

* * *

Grace kept the $3.49 bottle of Vixen Red polish in her bureau drawer, buried underneath her underwear, where nobody would find it. She kept some of her mother’s other things—a lock of auburn hair, a lavender silk scarf, a book of Walt Whitman poems—in the drawer of her bedside table. But the nail polish was Grace’s treasure. Sometimes she would slip it out and painstakingly paint a single fingernail red with the same tiny brush that had traced her mother’s nails nearly a decade ago. Now she stayed inside the lines, carefully painting only one coat, using as little polish as possible, because this was a special red, her mother’s red, and she couldn’t go out and buy more when she ran out. She doubted they even made Vixen Red anymore.

Grace would sit there on her bedroom floor, sneaking glances at the splash of vibrant color alive against the white of her skin, stroking the single red nail with her thumb, strangely comforted yet upset with herself at the same time.

Now. Grace watched the pool of red soak through the layers of paper towels. The tiny bottle, nearly empty, was propped upright on the bedside table.

She looked out the window. It was raining “cats and frogs.” Tears spilled from her eyes and drip… drip… dripped down her cheeks, but Grace felt a smile cracking her face. She crawled across the floor and rummaged around in the back of her closet.

Grace sat there for a moment, looking at it, running her hand across the light plastic surface. With Vixen Red-stained fingers, she carefully wiped off a thin film of dust. Baby steps, she thought, taking a deep breath. Baby steps.

She slipped out the front door and into the rain, hugging the faded rainbow tightly to her chest. Baby steps. Baby steps. Grace opened her mouth wide and caught a water droplet on her tongue.

What a perfect day, she thought, smiling as she squinted into the falling raindrops, to fly a kite.

My book is here!!!

It is hard to believe… but nearly two years after I signed the publishing contract… and nearly four years after I completed the first draft… and after more than two decades of dreaming about this moment… my debut novel is out in the world today!!

THE BEST WEEK THAT NEVER HAPPENED is a love story set in Hawaii, with a dash of mystery and magic, about living each day to the fullest. It is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audiobook — wherever books are sold!

Amazon / IndieBound / Barnes & Noble / Target / Books-A-Million / Book Depository

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ABOUT THE BOOK:

“This debut novel is captivating and moving. A dazzling, emotional story of love, loss, and living in the moment.”—Kirkus Reviews

After her parents’ bitter divorce, family vacations to the Big Island in Hawaii ceased. But across the miles, eighteen-year-old Tegan Rossi remains connected to local Kai Kapule, her best friend from childhood. Now, Tegan finds herself alone and confused about how she got to the Big Island. With no wallet, no cell phone, purse, or plane ticket, Tegan struggles to piece together what happened. She must have come to surprise-visit Kai. Right?

As the teens grow even closer, Tegan pushes aside her worries and gets swept away in the vacation of her dreams. But each morning, Tegan startles awake from nightmares that become more difficult to ignore. Something is eerily amiss. Why is there a strange gap in her memory? Why can’t she reach her parents or friends from home? And what’s with the mysterious hourglass tattoo over her heart?

Kai promises to help Tegan figure out what is going on. But the answers they find only lead to more questions. As the week unfolds, Tegan will experience the magic of first love, the hope of second chances, and the bittersweet joy and grief of being human.

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Due to COVID-19, I unfortunately had to postpone all my bookstore events… but the silver lining is that I am doing a virtual book launch that anyone can attend from the comfort of their homes around the world!

On Sunday, April 26th at 2pm PST I will go live on Facebook and YouTube!

For the livestream, I will have a book talk, reading, and Q&A that will be led by the young adult authors Tobie Easton & Jennieke Cohen.

Prizes will also be given out! There will be small prizes for those who participate in a trivia game that will be run in the comments (themed bookmark, postcard, and temporary tattoos!) There will also be some bigger prizes!

Please add the event to your calendar and invite anyone who might be interested!

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There is even a book trailer! Special thanks to Demi Bernice Eslit & Bryan Murphy for their help with production.

It’s also been really fun to connect with book bloggers and websites who have been kind enough to help spread the word about my book! Here is a sampling:

Cover reveal & excerpt of The Best Week That Never Happened on The Nerd Daily

Exclusive excerpt of The Best Week That Never Happened on Hypable

Guest post on School Library Journal’s Teen Librarian Toolbox: Writing Our Way Through Grief

Guest post on Novel Novice: The Day I Finished My Novel

Interview with The YA Sh3lf

Interview with The Indie View

Interview on Mark Gottlieb Talks Books

Interview with The Writer Librarian

This has truly been one of the best days of my life!! My heart is so full. I feel so supported and loved– and in this time of social distancing, I feel connected to all of you! Thank you for your support of me and my dreams!

And look what my publisher just sent me: THE BEST WEEK THAT NEVER HAPPENED is ranked on Amazon New Releases #2 for the print book and #4 for the ebook! 😍 Thank you!!

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some happy news in scary times: my debut novel is being published!

Ever since I was a little girl, it has been my dream to publish a novel. And now, after years of writing and rejection and more writing, after three other novel manuscripts that live in my computer hard-drive… that dream is coming true!

Books have always been a solace for me during tough times. When I feel stressed, overwhelmed, scared, anxious… I can escape into the world of a story and let my mind relax for a little while. I hope that my book can be such a gift for others during this global pandemic.

THE BEST WEEK THAT NEVER HAPPENED is now available for pre-order! It is being released in paperback, as an ebook and as an audiobook.https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1951710118 

Why is pre-ordering important for authors? (Especially debut novelists like me, especially during times like these?) Well, the number of pre-orders tells the publisher, booksellers, and industry as a whole how much desire and interest there is in your book. The first few weeks can make or break a book, and the first novel can make or break an author’s publishing chances in the future.

I would be incredibly grateful if you take the time to pre-order my book!

Read an excerpt of the beginning here on The Nerd Daily & another excerpt here on Hypable!

 

ABOUT THE BOOK 

After her parents’ bitter divorce, family vacations to the Big Island in Hawaii ceased. But across the miles, eighteen-year-old Tegan Rossi remains connected to local Kai Kapule, her best friend from childhood. Now, Tegan finds herself alone and confused about how she got to the Big Island. With no wallet, no cell phone, purse, or plane ticket, Tegan struggles to piece together what happened. She must have come to surprise-visit Kai. Right?

As the teens grow even closer, Tegan pushes aside her worries and gets swept away in the vacation of her dreams. But each morning, Tegan startles awake from nightmares that become more difficult to ignore. Something is eerily amiss. Why is there a strange gap in her memory? Why can’t she reach her parents or friends from home? And what’s with the mysterious hourglass tattoo over her heart?

Kai promises to help Tegan figure out what is going on. But the answers they find only lead to more questions. As the week unfolds, Tegan will experience the magic of first love, the hope of second chances, and the bittersweet joy and grief of being human.

My friend, the amazing young artist Nicole Ham, created two gorgeous custom paintings for the book’s pre-order campaign! Everyone who pre-orders the book will receive a digital print of each of these paintings! 

PRE-ORDER PRIZES

To receive your bonus goodies + be entered to win the grand prize, all you need to do is forward your proof of purchase and your mailing address to bestweekbookorder@gmail.com.

PRE-ORDER ONE COPY of THE BEST WEEK THAT NEVER HAPPENED and RECEIVE…

  • a free ebook of my newly released 15th anniversary edition of 3 a.m.: a collection of short stories, including three new stories
  • a signed, personalized bookplate
  • a matching bookmark
  • two temporary tattoos: an hourglass and a gecko (you’ll understand their significance after reading the book!)
  •  two downloadable digital prints of custom artwork created by Nicole Ham specifically for The Best Week That Never Happened

PRE-ORDER TWO COPIES of THE BEST WEEK THAT NEVER HAPPENED and RECEIVE…

  • all of the above
  • a gecko charm bracelet (also related to the plot of the book!)

PRE-ORDER THREE OR MORE COPIES of THE BEST WEEK THAT NEVER HAPPENED and RECEIVE…

  • all of the above
  • a print copy of my newly released 15th anniversary edition of 3 a.m.: a collection of short stories, including three new stories!

Also, for every copy you pre-order, you’ll be entered to win…

THE GRAND PRIZE:

  • a 30-minute call with me to discuss your writing, talk about how to get published, answer your questions about the book, or whatever your heart desires!
  • a prize package I’ve created just for you from Hawaii: chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, Ohana Bros addictive kettle chips, the best Kona coffee, and a beautiful mug

To receive your bonus goodies + be entered to win the grand prize, all you need to do is forward your proof of purchase and your mailing address to bestweekbookorder@gmail.com.

PRAISE

“This debut novel is captivating and moving. . . A dazzling, emotional story of love, loss, and living in the moment.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A poignant and gripping heart-tug of a page-turner filled with heart and hope. I couldn’t put it down. Magic.” —Jennifer Niven, New York Times bestselling author of All the Bright Places and Holding Up the Universe

“Dallas Woodburn weaves a bittersweet love story between star-crossed lovers—thwarted not only by distance but also by insurmountable tragedy. This captivating, poignant story is perfect for teens on the brink of discovering who they are and what really matters.” —Natalie Lund, author of We Speak in Storms

 

I hope you are staying safe and healthy, my friends! Thank you for taking the time to visit my little corner of the blogosphere today, and thank you for always being so supportive of my writing dreams. ❤

A bunch of exciting updates!

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since my last post… my life has been quite full taking care of my baby daughter Maya, who just turned one year old. She is a speedy crawler and loves to pull herself up to standing and “cruise” around holding onto furniture. We think she will be toddling around pretty soon! She is a ray of sunshine and the gift of being her mom brings me incredible joy every single day.

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I have been trying to write and work as much as possible during her naps, and thankfully I am very fortunate to have a wonderful mother-in-law who loves to babysit Miss Maya and give me some uninterrupted work time. (Soooo grateful for you, Barbara! <3)

Over the past few months, some exciting developments have unfolded that I am delighted to share with you!

1. A chapbook of my flash fiction called “How My Parents Fell in Love” was published by Maryland Press. This is an “ebook” of eight very short stories that have never been published in a collection like this before! The book is offered as “pay what you can” to ensure that anyone who would like to read it is able to afford a copy.

2. I have been interviewed on a few podcasts about writing & creativity. I will be sharing more information about these soon!

3. My YA novel THE BEST WEEK THAT NEVER HAPPENED is slated to be published by the fabulous Month9Books in April 2020! I absolutely cannot wait to share this book with all of you. I wrote the first draft back in 2017 and it is truly a story that came straight from my heart.

Over the ensuing months and years, the manuscript has gone through numerous revisions and I have learned so much through the editing process. Editors at my publishing house have given me invaluable feedback — from big picture “developmental edits” to minor detail consistency edits (like, making sure the character doesn’t have blue eyes on page 14 and green eyes on page 108) and copyedits/proofreading on the punctuation/grammar level. I feel very fortunate to have a team of talented, professional writers and editors helping me make my novel the very best it can be!

I was just recently sent a mock up of my book cover, and it took my breath away! I can’t wait to share it with all of you!!

4. I am hosting a giveaway to celebrate my book’s upcoming release. I hope you will take two seconds to enter this contest because it could not be easier, and I have lots of fun prizes to send your way!

TO ENTER: Simply mark The Best Week That Never Happened as “Want to Read” in Goodreads. That’s it! 

Bonus entry: ⇓ share this giveaway on social media and tag me ⇓

On December 31st, I’ll be randomly choosing 30+ winners for the following prizes:

Hand-carved wooden snowflake ornaments 

 

Why wooden snowflake ornaments? Here is a sneak-peek passage from The Best Week That Never Happened to explain how these beauties tie into the novel:

Crowded against the front window is a fake Christmas tree decorated top to bottom with wooden ornaments—“HAND-CRAFTED,” a sign proclaims. Trying to distract myself, I walk over and study the display. Some ornaments are smooth wooden globes, surprisingly light in my hand. Most of the globes are painted with images of Hawaii: surfers, dolphins, ocean waves.

My favorite ornaments are the wooden snowflakes, paper-thin, so delicately carved it is impossible to imagine an actual person crafting them. Maybe, despite the sign’s promise, these are machine produced. I take one in each hand and compare them. It’s clear they are different: one has six narrow points while the other is broader, like a starfish. Could it be possible each ornament is unique, like real snowflakes? That would definitely mean they are hand carved.

The bell jingles.  I glance over.

There he is. Kai.

 

A few of my favorite YA books 

I wrote about some of these fantastic reads in my post for the “31 days of #quietYA” blog; others are perennial faves that I find myself returning to again and again. I will be giving away new copies of all of these books!

  • Emerge by Tobie Easton
  • We Speak in Storms by Natalie Lund
  • All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  • When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
  • Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll
  • Merged by Jim & Stephanie Kroepfl

It would mean so much to me if you enter and share with your friends! ⇒ Mark The Best Week That Never Happened as “Want to Read” in Goodreads

5. I started a podcast! It is called “Overflowing Bookshelves” and it is a podcast for people who love the written word.

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Could you spend hours browsing through a bookstore? Is your happy place curled up under a blanket with a good book, or perhaps writing a story of your own? Are you constantly adding to your “to be read” list even though your bookshelves are already overflowing? If so, this podcast is for you! Tune in to hear authentic conversations with published authors about their creative process, paths to publication, and advice for living your most fruitful and inspired life.

The first two episodes are up and I’m hoping to get the next one up later this week. I hope you get a chance to listen & enjoy! 🙂

 

Thank you everyone for your support of my creative endeavors. It means more than you could know, especially as I try to carve out my writing time during this new phase of life: new motherhood. I appreciate you more than you could know!

With love & best wishes for happy holidays & a masterpiece New Year!

-Dallas

remembering flo

The first time I met Allyn’s great aunt Flo — the sister of his paternal grandmother — I was a little nervous. At the time she was 93 years old and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew she lived alone in her house of nearly six decades; her husband had died and she had no children of her own. I knew she was a bit hard of hearing; Allyn told me I would need to speak loudly and clearly. I knew she had been an avid photographer — even taking a workshop with Ansel Adams! — and that she loved the Oakland A’s. Driving up to her house that day with Allyn and his mom and sister, I felt a bit like an intruder. I was just a woman Allyn had been dating for a few months. Would Flo wonder what I was doing there? Or would she confuse me with one of his previous girlfriends? I tried to mentally prepare a strategy for what to do if she called me by a different name or acted like we had met before. She was 93 years old, after all.

We pulled up into the driveway of her cute one-story house with the brown trim and neatly kept yard. I followed Allyn and his family around the side yard and through the garage, where they knocked on the door leading into the kitchen. “Coming!” a voice called, and then the door swung open and there was Flo with a wide, warm smile on her face.

Flo was beautiful. She had an inner beauty that shone out of her eyes and her smile. She wore her short hair perfectly curled. Her carefully applied makeup accentuated her quiet elegance. She looked and seemed decades younger than her years.

Flo hugged everyone and said, “I’m so happy to see you!” When Allyn introduced me as his girlfriend, Flo leaned over without hesitation and gave me a hug too. It would be my first of many, many sweet hugs from Flo.

That afternoon we went to lunch at an Indian restaurant down the street. Flo had never been there before — the Mexican place that she loved was closed that day so we went to the Indian restaurant next door instead — but she was game to try something new. She was up on politics, had a delightful sense of humor, and chatted with Allyn’s mom about the Oakland A’s (Flo watched every game on TV and even kept her own detailed statistics for each player). I was in complete awe of her. I remember thinking, “If I am lucky enough to live into my nineties, I want to be just like Flo.”

Not too long after that, Allyn and I moved into our first apartment together. We chose the location because it was midway between both of our workplaces, it was a safe neighborhood and the rent was more reasonable than other nearby cities. An added bonus was that we now lived just down the street from Flo.

We visited Flo as often as we could. Our routine was to take her grocery shopping and to the drugstore, and then to pick up her favorite smoothie drink, called a Blenzer, on the way home. Then we would drink the Blenzers and visit around her kitchen table. Flo loved the cappuccino Blenzer and would suck down the large size in no time at all. She would always tease me and Allyn for getting the smaller sizes. {I couldn’t handle anything bigger– those things were filling!} I remember her childlike pleasure in something as ordinary as enjoying a smoothie. She would announce, “I just love these!” and her eyes would sparkle. Her joy was pure and contagious.

Shopping with Flo was always an adventure. She would write out, in her neat block handwriting, two identical copies of her grocery list: one for her and one for Allyn and me. At the store, one of us would stay with her at the cart and the other would zoom around the aisles to pick up her items. Her list was short and simple; she would buy just what she needed, nothing more. She especially loved oranges and vanilla frozen yogurt. Allyn and I would sometimes pick up groceries for ourselves while we were there, and it always turned into a battle at the cashier because Flo wanted to pay for our groceries too, not just hers — even though we would typically have way more items than she did. I remember once, Allyn tried to sneakily pay for all of our groceries — Flo’s included — and that was the only time I ever really saw Flo get angry. I remember her digging through her wallet and thrusting way too many bills at him, a stern look on her face. Flo was fiesty and stubborn as well as sweet.

A couple days after each grocery trip, we would receive a letter in the mail from Flo thanking us. I always loved reading her notes in her tidy penmanship, showering us with praise and gratitude for tasks that many people would take for granted. Flo was amazed that Allyn could find her items in the grocery store so quickly. Occasionally he would go shopping with Flo on Sundays when I had to work, but Flo wouldn’t forget me in her notes. “Hope to see you soon for another Blenzer– yum!” she would write. “Give my love to your darling Dallas!” She made me feel seen and loved as myself, not just as Allyn’s wife.

Speaking of being Allyn’s wife, one of my favorite memories of Flo was on our wedding day. I’m sure it felt like a big outing for Flo — she was 96 by then — and it was probably a little overwhelming for her to be around so many people, most of them strangers. Actually, maybe not. Flo was one of those special souls who made strangers instantly feel like friends. I had expected her to head home early in the evening, but not only did she stay long into the reception… she was a hit on the dance floor! I love these photos of her dancing with my family friends Ken & Kathy, whom she had just met that day. It was so special to have Flo’s joyful presence there at our wedding.

We thought of Flo in particular during our honeymoon in Yosemite, because she studied photography with Ansel Adams. We bought her a postcard print of one of his iconic black-and-white Yosemite photos in a gift shop there, and when we returned home we asked her about Ansel Adams during our next visit. She disappeared into her home office and reemerged with the materials from the workshop she took with him, shortly before he died. She had applied to the small, intimate workshop held at Adams’ home and was one of only a handful of students accepted. I could see why she was chosen — Flo’s photography was masterful. Her stunning photograph of a lion hung in her living room, and I was amazed at the expression she captured in his eyes. My other favorites were her photographs of icebergs from a trip she took to the Arctic. She showed us a photograph she had surreptitiously snapped of Ansel Adams as he gave a talk on the last day of the workshop, and told us about how she went up to him afterwards and asked if she could give him a hug. After he hugged her, Ansel Adams sighed and said, “If only I were twenty years younger!” Flo giggled as she told that story, and I got a flash of her girlhood self in her smile.

Since Flo could not travel herself anymore, one of our favorite traditions when we took trips was to mail her a postcard. Without fail, when we next visited her, the postcard would be out on her kitchen table — next to the newspaper crossword that she completed in ink every morning — or taped up on her refrigerator. She loved to read aloud to us the message we had written her, delight on her face and in her voice. Flo always made me feel like the very best version of myself.

The last time I saw Flo was the day after Thanksgiving. Allyn and I swung by with Blenzers and turkey leftovers. I was 39 weeks pregnant and Flo kept marveling at my belly. Flo was 98 years old and had slowed down a great deal. She was much frailer and less steady on her feet; she gripped my hands tightly as we walked down the hall together. But her sweet smile was the same, her laugh was the same, and her unbridled joy to see us caused my own heart to leap as it always did. She had forgotten we were coming and kept saying, “I just can’t believe you’re here. I’m so happy to see you!” As usual, she paid us far too much for the groceries we brought her. I was able to slip the money back into her wallet without her noticing, and that was when it really struck me that we might not have too much time left on this Earth with our dear Flo.

Flo passed away on January 4. Both Allyn and I cried when we learned the news. Even though we were blessed with so much time with Flo, I feel greedy for even more. It is so hard to let her go. She never got to meet Maya in person, but I am so grateful to Allyn’s dad for bringing her a photo of Maya shortly after Christmas, so at least Flo got to see our little girl. I hope Maya grows up with her great-great aunt’s sense of wonder and curiosity about the world, delighting in its beauty and its gifts — especially the small everyday pleasures that many of us overlook. I hope Maya has Flo’s kindness and also her strength; her humor and her conviction; her playfulness and gratitude. And I hope Maya continually feels as loved as Flo always made me feel.

Thank you for the memories, dear Flo. Thank you for letting me be part of your life. I am just one of countless people whose lives you touched. I love you and will miss you very much.

what i’ve learned as a new mom

Hi everyone, and happy 2019! I am thrilled to introduce you to my daughter Maya Woodburn McAuley. She was born on December 4th at 10:57pm. She is the most beautiful thing we have ever seen and my husband and I are completely, totally, head-over-heels in-love with her.

Becoming a parent is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. With the sleep deprivation, exhaustion, demands of breastfeeding, and constant neediness a newborn baby brings, there have definitely been days when I have felt completely overwhelmed. But that is coupled with a profound love and gratitude for this itty-bitty baby we are blessed enough to get to care for. Rarely in my life have I been through a season that is both indescribably good and indescribably hard — but parenthood is both. It has broken me down into the core of my being and transformed me into a new level of my being.

My mom brain is tired and my thoughts are scattered, so I’m going to organize this as a list post. Here are, in no particular order, some things I’ve discovered as a new mom.

1. The human body is truly astounding. Pregnancy was miraculous enough — watching my body change and my belly grow, week by week, as I created a new human being inside me. Giving birth took my awe to a whole new level. I never want to forget how amazing my body is and what it can do.

In daily life, it is easy to get caught up in viewing our bodies through a lens of shallow perfectionism. Especially as women, we are surrounded by messages of what we “need” to tweak, change, shave, shine, primp, tighten {etc etc} about our bodies in order to make them beautiful, sexy, worthy. But pregnancy and giving birth has reminded me — has dug the knowledge deep within my bones — that my body is worthy and strong and good and enough exactly as it is. I do not need to change a thing. Whenever I feel otherwise, I need to lean into the truth of my body’s resilience and strength and be grateful for all that my body does for me each and every day. My body has climbed mountains. My body has explored cities. My body has birthed a tiny human being. My body lets me run and jump and stretch and hug and carry my daughter as we dance around and around the room. My body deserves to be cherished.

2. Sometimes confidence needs to be faked before it is felt. That first night in the hospital, as Maya cried and cried, my husband and I looked at each other with wide eyes. Our expressions said, “Now what do we do?” We had been up for more than 24 hours after a long labor. As excited as I was to be a mom, in truth Maya didn’t quite feel like *mine* right away. She felt like this random baby we were tasked with caring for — with no instruction manual. I kept catching my brain wondering where this baby’s parents were and when they would come teach us what to do.

I spent nine months being a pregnant woman. Then, within a day, I became a mom. But I didn’t feel like a mom yet. In truth, I was terrified.

Maya didn’t know any of that. All she knew was that she was hungry and I fed her. She was wet and Daddy changed her diaper. She was tired and we rocked her to sleep. To her, we were “real” parents from the very beginning. Of course we knew what we were doing.

As the days and weeks passed, I began to relax more into my new identity. Gradually, I’ve gotten to know Maya better — and she has gotten to know me. Looking back now, it is amazing how much more confident I feel as a mother. Yes, there will still be times when Maya is screaming her head off and I’m trying in vain to soothe her and I wish there was an instruction manual or “expert” I could pass her off to. But for the most part, the confident smile I used to summon all my energy to plaster onto my tired face is a genuine smile of confidence these days.

3. You can prepare and prepare and prepare… but there are some things in life you simply cannot fully prepare for. Allyn and I took all the prenatal classes. We read so many books. We watched videos. We downloaded podcasts. We practiced tasks on a baby doll: putting on a diaper, swaddling, burping, sponge-bathing. We listened to advice from other people.

The week before Maya was born, everything was all ready for her arrival. The baby furniture was set up. The baby clothes were washed and organized. Our hospital bags were packed. Our freezer was stocked with easy meals to reheat and our pantry was stocked with snacks.

We did everything we could think of to prepare. And yet… when the time came to bring her home from the hospital, I felt very unprepared. In truth, nothing could have prepared us for the realities of life with a newborn baby. No amount of other people’s stories about sleep-deprivation teach you what it feels like to go weeks upon weeks waking up every two hours to feed a baby.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for things as best you can. I’m so grateful we came home to an organized nursery and lots of food in the freezer. I’m so glad we took all those baby classes. But I’ve learned to give myself grace and to accept the messiness of life’s new challenges. I will make mistakes. I will not be perfect. And that is part of the beauty of the journey. Some things, you only learn by experiencing them yourself.

4. A community of support is invaluable. We are so, so lucky to have a ton of family and friends who surrounded us with love and care when Maya was born — and continue to do so, offering help and hugs and listening ears. My parents drove up from Southern California and stayed with us for a few days to help us get our bearings. My mom came up again when Allyn went back to work so I would feel less overwhelmed with the transition of caring for a baby by myself all day. My sister-in-law Allyson cleaned our entire house while we were in the hospital so we would come home to a clean house, and also organized a meal train for the first few weeks we were home. Family and friends came to meet Maya — and also to bring us food and do our dishes. I can’t count how many people have brought us groceries. My mother-in-law comes over frequently to hold Maya so I can take a shower or take a nap. People sent cards and gifts and flowers and prayers. I still receive text messages nearly every day from friends — checking up on me, asking how things are going, letting me know they care.

One of my favorite experiences of my entire life has been seeing the people I love shower love onto my daughter. It is so special to witness such a tangible outpouring of their love as they hold her, rock her, and cuddle her close.

5. You can hold gratitude and sadness in your heart at the same time. Before Maya was born, I read about the “baby blues” and postpartum depression, but I never expected to feel those things myself. After all, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to be a mother. Even as a little girl, I dreamed of one day having a child of my own. And after the heartbreaking experience of an ectopic pregnancy the year before, I understood deep in my heart what a gift it is to be granted a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

But sometimes, in the early weeks of life with our newborn daughter, I found myself bursting into tears and sobbing into my hands. I would feel a pit of despair well up within me for no discernible reason. I mourned my old life — the sense of control I used to feel over myself, my body, and my time. At the prospect of another sleepless night, I would find myself thinking, “I can’t do this. I don’t know if I can do this.”

Then I would feel wracked with guilt. Because of course I knew what a blessing it was to be able to do this. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel sad or tired or frustrated — I should only feel grateful. I should feel grateful all the time.

What I’ve learned through becoming a mother is that it is possible to want something very much, and to feel astoundingly grateful to have something, and also to feel sad and overwhelmed and annoyed and exhausted. Our feelings are not mutually exclusive. Feeling one thing does not preclude the other. Trying to push away my sadness — or compounding it with guilt — only made it worse. By acknowledging the breadth of my feelings and giving myself grace to feel them all, I was able to move through the sadness much easier. Talking to Allyn about how I was feeling, and having him listen to me patiently without judging me at all, was a huge step in my journey of embracing the whole package of motherhood — not just the Hollywood highlight reel, but the beautiful daily grind of it.

6. Self-care does not have to be complicated. Sometimes, self-care is as simple as brushing your teeth, washing your face, drinking a glass of water. When I get to take a shower, it is glorious. Instead of mindlessly going through the motions, I savor the sensations of the water beating down my back and the smooth soap on my skin. A good nap makes me feel newly alive again. Even going to the grocery store can be an act of vibrant self-care! I went out by myself for the first time last weekend {leaving Allyn at home with a sleeping Maya and a bottle of breastmilk just in case she woke up hungry} and slowly pushing my cart down the aisles felt like such a glorious luxury.

7. Stories save us. Whether it is listening to my mom’s stories about how overwhelmed she felt when my brother and I were first born {something that is impossible to imagine now — my confident, capable mother ever feeling overwhelmed} or texting with a fellow new mom friend about the trials of breastfeeding, or reading blog posts written by new moms about their joys and struggles with motherhood… stories have become my lifeline in an entirely new way during this season of my life. Stories make me feel understood and less alone. They give me hope and connection. They make me laugh. If ever I have doubts about the power stories hold — because it can be a less tangible power than other things, perhaps — the experiences in my life that bring me to my knees always remind me tenfold why I have devoted my life to storytelling.

In a nutshell, I believe that stories are love. Telling our stories is sharing our own unique and sacred love with the world.

8. The only constant in this life is change. As I write this, Maya is seven weeks and three days old. She has already gone through so many changes since we brought her home from the hospital. Her umbilical cord dried up and fell off. She gained back the weight she lost after birth and she continues to steadily gain weight each week. Already, she has grown out of her newborn clothes. Her cheeks have filled out and her little arms and legs are delightfully pudgy. Her eyes have grown more alert. She sleeps for longer stretches during the night (hallelujah!) and is awake for longer stretches during the day. She makes little noises as if she is trying to talk to us. She has started to smile real smiles of happiness, not just gas. Every day, it seems, she is doing something new.

I have always loved the song “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” by Darius Rucker, and becoming a mom has made me love this song in a whole new light. Now when I listen to this song, it makes me cry. I think of this song when Maya has a diaper blowout five minutes after I changed her last diaper. I think of this song when she wants to eat again for the umpteenth time and doesn’t care one iota about my sore nipples. I think of this song when she is being fussy and I feel like I’ve done nothing all day except dance with her around the kitchen, holding her in different positions, trying to get her settled and sleepy. In moments of frustration or weariness, I remind myself that it won’t be like this for long. This too shall pass. Things will change, as they always do.

One day — in what I am sure will feel like the blink of an eye — this itty bitty baby will be crawling, and then walking, and then going to school, and riding her bike, and going to sleepovers, and learning to drive, and heading off into her own life all grown up. And I will think back to when she was a fussy little seven-week-and-three-day-old baby, and I will wish more than anything to spend a day dancing with her around the kitchen as she cries and wails and finally snuggles to sleep against my chest.

a tour of our home… and nursery!

We’ve been in our house for about six months now, and I realized I’m more than overdue to give y’all a little tour! This also includes a tour of our nursery, which is coming together slowly but surely. T-minus three months till Baby Mac’s due date!

I really love our little house. I love all the windows and natural light we get throughout the day. We don’t have air conditioning, but this summer was pleasant even in the hot weather because we were able to open up various windows and sliding doors and get lots of nice cross-breezes flowing. {This is night and day from our stuffy second-floor apartment last summer!} Our neighborhood is safe, quiet and filled with families. We live on a cul-de-sac and I love seeing the little kids riding around on their tricycles and training wheels.

When you first come in our front door, off to the left is our living room {or, as I’ve affectionately dubbed it, the “couch room.”} This is my favorite place to curl up and read or write in my journal. Every night, Allyn and I relax in here after dinner and read a bedtime story to Baby Mac in my belly, which is one of my very favorite parts of the day. I love when she kicks hello!

You might be able to spy some baby gifts in the corner which we haven’t put away yet from our baby shower. You can also see our Christmas stockings {Mommy, Daddy & Baby Mac} which we used for our pregnancy announcement photo. The superstitious part of me wanted to keep them up for good luck, rather than putting them away until the holiday season.

Leaving the couch room, you’ll walk down a long hallway to the kitchen and dining area. I absolutely adore having a large, open, bright and airy kitchen. I spend lots of time here throughout the day, prepping meals and eating or reading at the kitchen table. Our kitchen island has been a game-changer when it comes to cooking and baking. Back in our small apartment kitchen, I never felt like I had enough space; Allyn and I were constantly dancing around each other. I would move dishes and mixing bowls on top of the fridge or microwave to try to make space when prepping meals! Now, it is such a gift to have lots of room. I find that I enjoy cooking much more, now that I have more room to spread out.

You’ll see our apartment is graced with lots of beautiful flowers, left over from our baby shower!

Below is the view of our backyard from the kitchen window… I love all of our windowsill succulents, and I love looking out at the greenery outside while washing dishes. Allyn and I refer to our backyard as “the nature preserve”… we are fine with a bit of a wild look, and the animals seem to enjoy it! We get lots of squirrels and birds, including hummingbirds. Eventually one of my goals is to start a vegetable garden… I’m a bit intimidated about it, but maybe this spring I’ll give it a shot. Right now I have a couple potted herbs that I am hoping to keep alive over the winter. Baby steps!

As I’m writing this right now, I can hear the chickens squawking and realize I forgot to tell you about the chickens next door! Our neighbors have a chicken coop and we always laugh throughout the day at the noisy chickens saying hello. Fortunately, they have only woken us up early in the morning a couple times. They seem to get most excited in the afternoons — maybe that’s when they are fed? I already love to imagine telling Baby Mac, “Listen to the chickens!”

From the kitchen, we’ll walk down the hall to the back of the house. We have a guest bedroom, but I didn’t snap any photos of it because my brother is currently staying with us and it is filled with his belongings and other odds & ends. Instead, let’s go through this door to the right and enter… my office! Slash, the nursery!

We decided to combine the nursery with my office instead of turning the guest bedroom into a nursery. We want to keep a separate guest bedroom for visitors {lookin’ at you, Mom and Dad!} and also, I love the idea of having Baby Mac close by napping while I’m working. At least, that’s how it works in my imagination… we’ll have to see if it works out that way in real life!

We still have a few pictures to hang and things to organize in here, but the basics are in place and I’m so excited about how it is coming together. I can’t believe we will have a little baby in here soon!

From the nursery, it’s just a few steps further down the hall to our master bedroom and bathroom. Our bedroom is huge and filled with natural light — we actually had to get black-out curtains because we were being woken up so early on weekends! We are planning to have Baby Mac sleep in here with us in a bassinet. Another thing I appreciate about our bedroom is separate his-and-hers closets. Woot! Allyn and I dream about having separate his-and-hers sinks in our bathroom one day. Sometimes it’s the small things, right?

If our bedcovers look lopsided and the pillows are off-center, it’s because there is a huge pregnancy pillow {the one-and-only Snoogle} hiding under the covers on my side. That thing is a lifesaver each night when I am trying to get comfortable and fall asleep!

Lastly, I snapped a photo of our bathroom because it is so clean and pretty after the baby shower. We are trying to keep it that way and put away our various bottles and products rather than leave them out on the counter… we’ll see how long that lasts. Also, it wasn’t until my mother-in-law put vases of flowers in our bathrooms for the party that I realized how much I love fresh flowers in the bathroom! I never would have thought to put flowers here. Now I want to make it a fairly regular occurrence. So simple, yet feels so fancy!

And that’s the tour, my friends! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today and I hope you enjoyed getting a peak into our home. I should probably check back in six months from now for some #realtalk and show you our messy life-with-a-newborn house! I’m sure it is going to get a lot less tidy around here. And that’s okay!

However, I *have* noticed that when my environment is clean and organized, I just feel so much less stressed, more productive, and happier as a whole. Like Gretchen Rubin says: “Outer order, inner calm.” So I’m going to do my best to at least keep things a little bit together around here once Baby Mac comes! I’m all ears if you have any tips, advice or stories to share about life with a newborn!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • What do you love about your living space?
  • Describe your favorite room in your home. What adjectives come to mind when you think about this space? What are your favorite activities to do here?
  • Do you have any important qualities you look for in a home? What are they and why are they important to you?

an unintentional summer hiatus

Hello, everyone! I hope you are savoring these final days of summer. I did not intend to disappear from the blog for three months… but sometimes life gets in the way and I’ve learned to roll with it!

However, I have missed this writing space and time with all of you each week{ish}. I’ve found that taking some time each week to reflect on my life and memories through blogging is a really special way to connect with myself, too. And I’ve missed it! I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things over these next few weeks. BUT I hope you’ll give me grace if I disappear again, because right now my schedule feels very up-and-down day-to-day… because, as you might have seen on Instagram, I’m pregnant!!

We are expecting our rainbow baby girl on November 30, just in time for the holidays! We are both so incredibly excited, and I have to pinch myself all the time that this is REALLY happening. I am overflowing with gratitude that we get to be the parents of this special little one who is growing bigger and stronger every day inside me. I have dealt with a fair share of anxiety throughout this pregnancy, which I am planning to do a whole separate post about. But suffice to say, everything is going well and I am feeling good as I prepare to enter my third trimester.

Time has stretched and compressed in such weird ways during pregnancy. In many aspects, it feels like I have been pregnant FOR.EV.ER — so much has happened since I took that positive test back in March! — but at the same time, it is absolutely crazy to think that we will be parents to newborn baby in a mere 13 weeks.

Parenthood by far is the largest change on the horizon, but 2018 has been filled with many other changes and areas of growth too — which is one reason I took an unintentional hiatus from blogging these past few months! Professionally, I am really excited about the direction my career is going. I still love teaching kids, but when I began thinking about balancing my career with motherhood, I realized that driving all around the Bay Area for hour-long in-person lessons was not going to be feasible if I wanted to stay at home with my baby. I wanted something I could do online, from my home office, without having to commute. I also felt a yearning to try something new, to stretch, to push myself out of my comfort zone.

So, back in April, I took a leap. Allyn was incredibly supportive of making an investment in my learning and career, and so I enrolled in a 10-week online “business boot camp” program called Permission to Charge. {I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to start or grow their own coaching-style business!} I learned all about creating a viable online business where I can serve others from my place of passion and expertise. I have been unofficially serving as a writing coach, editor and mentor for years… now it is extremely energizing to turn this into a structured program. In June, I officially launched my 90-Day Book Breakthrough Program to help people give birth to the books that are burning inside them… in just 90 days! You can learn all about it here, and you can also watch a free 45-minute webinar I created here that delves into my 5 steps to stop procrastinating and FINALLY write your book!

Currently, I am working with a handful of clients who are making such amazing progress on their book projects. It lights up my soul to be part of their journeys to becoming authors. I only take on clients whose projects I resonate with and who have a powerful message they are inspired to share with the world. Getting to help them do so is incredibly rewarding. I love watching them shine, and I am learning so much from reading their marvelous books-in-progress!

The timing was also serendipitous with this new business venture because I have a few risk factors in this pregnancy — namely, preeclampsia & preterm labor — so I have been required to really s l o w  d o w n  and cut back on my work a lot. This definitely goes against my natural instincts and was difficult at first, but I keep reminding myself that taking care of this baby is the most important thing, and to do that I need to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. So I take naps, rest throughout the day, and listen to my body above all else.

While starting a new business might seem like piling extra onto my plate, actually the number of hours I work has decreased drastically. I have stopped all of my in-person teaching {no long commuting and rushing all around town for appointments takes a huge load of stress off my daily routine!} and I only work with a handful of my best online students. I am also getting better at delegating and saying no with grace, and I am learning how to automate different systems so I am better able to plan ahead.

What else have I been up to these past few months?

  • In June we traveled to San Diego for my cousin’s wedding, which was a blast; and in July we headed to Santa Barbara for another cousin’s wedding, which was beautiful.
  • I spent about two weeks home with my parents in Ventura, where my mom and honorary aunt Alicia threw me an amazing baby shower, and I also taught my eleventh annual {!!!} Summer Writing Camp for kids and teens.
  • I had a book signing event at my favorite indie bookstore, Mrs. Figs’ Bookworm, to celebrate Woman, Running Late, in a Dress — it is so wonderful to hear from people who have read and enjoyed the book.
  • Allyn and I took a relaxing trip to Lake Tahoe with his family, and we’re heading off on another local getaway this weekend to celebrate our two-year wedding anniversary — which is doubling as a “babymoon”! I can’t wait.
  • My mother-in-law and sister-in-law threw us an incredible co-ed baby shower last weekend up here in the Bay Area. Baby Mac is already so loved, and I feel so grateful for the community of support we have surrounding us.
  • The rest of the summer has been spent soaking up time with friends, soaking up time as a couple, and preparing to become parents as best we can!

I think that about brings us up to date, and hopefully explains why I’ve been MIA the past three months. I’d love to hear the highlights of your summer, and what you’re looking forward to the rest of this year!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • What have been your favorite parts of this summer? Make a list of everything you have done — you might be surprised how long it is!
  • Have you ever taken a leap into a new venture, even if it scared you a little? Write about the experience, what you learned, and how you grew from it.
  • How do you slow down and take a step back from work commitments and obligations? What are your favorite ways to de-stress and center yourself?

pockets of grief, wells of memory

This past weekend, I flew to Nashville to celebrate a very special occasion: my friend Holly was ordained as a minister! She has been working for years towards this milestone, and I am so incredibly proud of her.

I had never before attended an ordination, and I was blown away by the beauty and emotion of the ceremony. It reminded me a lot of a wedding, but instead of celebrating the union of a couple, we were celebrating Holly’s commitment to generously serve others as a minister. Perhaps my favorite part of the ceremony was right after Holly was officially ordained and became Reverend Holly. The entire church stood up and burst into applause, and Holly looked out at all of us, her face glowing. Tears sprung to my eyes in that moment. The room was so palpably filled with love for my dear friend, who has already touched so many lives and is adored by so many people.

In preparing for the weekend, I expected to feel pride. I expected to feel joy. I expected to feel love and connection and excitement and peace. And I did feel all of these things. What I did not expect to feel was… grief.

I felt fresh, unexpected waves of missing Celine, the ache of her loss filling my chest more fiercely than it has in a long time. In the past year or so, my grief over her death has settled into a quiet place within my heart. I think of her often — but, unlike in the immediate aftermath of her death, my thoughts of her now are often accompanied by happiness. I can smile at my memories of her, even as I deeply miss her presence.

But grief is not a straight line. Grief can surprise you. Grief can sneak up on you. You can stumble upon pockets of grief that steal all the breath from your lungs and suddenly it is like you just lost your person, all over again, in that instant.

I was expecting to miss Celine at Holly’s ordination, just like I missed her at my wedding — crossing the threshold of another Big Life Event that she should be here to experience with us. But the way I missed her this weekend was sharp and personal and raw.

The really neat thing about an ordination is that people from all corners and phases of your life come to honor the person you were, the person you are, and the person you are still becoming. Holly’s family was there, and her friends from childhood, and her friends from divinity school. People were there from the church she grew up attending and the church she interned with and her current church home. Old classmates and old professors and old family friends.

What I hadn’t put together beforehand was that I would be the sole ambassador from Holly’s college years, the years we were roommates, the years our friendship blossomed and grew strong. As I walked into the church and sat down in a pew, I found myself looking around for the third pea in our pod: Celine.

Everyone else had their people from their phase of Holly’s life. Celine would have been my person there. I felt like I was trying to hold up a mantle for both of us, a mantle that was meant to be shared, that was too heavy for me alone. I felt sad and awkward under the weight. Because Celine should have been there, too. If life were even close to fair or sensible, she would have been there sitting next to me, holding my hand as we both blinked back proud tears for our girl Holly.

Holly’s childhood friends came in then, and I have met them all before and they are lovely, and they scooted over on their pew so I could sit with them. We chatted and caught up on each other’s lives. It was comforting to know that they had met Celine — that if I spoke her name they would share stories of her and remember her, too. I wondered if they thought of her when they saw me.

The strange thing was, even as I grieved anew the loss of one of the brightest lights I have ever known, I could also feel her presence more vividly than I had in a long time. I could imagine her there next to me, wearing a white top and a yellow skirt and a purple belt, with dangly earrings and red lipstick, her long hair pulled partly back with bobby pins. I could clearly imagine her hand in mine, with her round nails painted turquoise. I could see her looking at me with her big eyes, smiling at me as we talked about some random memory from college. She would stand up and greet people, shake their hands and say, “We’re Holly’s friends from college.” We are. How lonely the “I” is, when compared with “we.”

But as the service began, I was overcome by a profound sense that I was there not just as Dallas, but that I was representing Celine, too. I knew without a doubt that she was there in spirit — that she was indeed sitting beside me, holding my hand, in whatever way she could. Only in the physical, mortal sense was I there alone.

At the ordination after-party, they served lasagna.

*

After an amazing whirlwind weekend, on the plane from Nashville yesterday morning, I was reading through an old issue of a literary journal. An essay by Emily Arnason Casey described a Greek myth of the lark, taking place in a time before the world began, back when there was only air and sky and wind. The lark’s father dies and there is nowhere to bury his body–no ground for him to rest in for eternity. The birds all gather together and try to decide what to do, but they cannot think of any solutions. Until finally, Casey writes, “the lark decides she will bury the body of her father in the back of her mind, and this is the beginning of memory.

When I looked up the symbolism of larks, I found these words that burst with resonance of Celine:

Larks are known for their melodious singing. They also sing while they are flying, unlike most other birds, who only sing when perched. This indicates cheerfulness and reminds us to find joy in our own lives.

Larks have a crescent shape across their breasts. The crescent shape often signifies lunar qualities, and the moon is often linked with the concept of self. Therefore the lark reflects the inward journey that’s often associated with self-discovery. This goes hand in hand with their singing, something that, for humans, is often considered a private activity and a deep reflection of inner self. Lark encourages us to explore our inner selves and sing out loud.

I don’t think I came across this essay in a random literary journal from 2012 by accident during my flight home. I believe it was a message from Celine. She wanted to remind me that she is buried inside me, and inside of all of us who love her, and the well of our memories with her runs ever-deep, like a cup that can never be emptied. Her memory encourages all of us to find joy in our lives, to explore our inner selves, to sing out loud.

Celine would be turning 30 this Friday. I am celebrating her birthday by getting together with friends for dinner and then going out to a bar where the waiters sing show-tunes. I am going to remember Celine by laughing unselfconsciously and squeezing people I love in big bear hugs and singing along to Broadway show-tunes at the top of my lungs.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • Write about a person you miss, whether they are gone from this life or are simply someone you have lost touch with. What do you miss most about them? What memories with them do you treasure?
  • Think about an animal that carries symbolism for you, and write about the ways this meaning has touched your life at different points.
  • Write a love letter to one of your dearest friends about all the things you love about them. Bonus: send it to them!