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!

the panic before the party

Last Sunday, Allyn and I hosted a book launch party at our new home to celebrate the release of my short story collection, WOMAN, RUNNING LATE, IN A DRESS. {You can snag a personalized copy here!}

We’d been planning this party for months. Even before we found our new home, when we weren’t even looking at houses yet but were planning to move when our lease was up, I said to Allyn, “You know what would be cool? What if we had a combination housewarming/book launch party when my book is published?” Allyn immediately agreed it would be cool, but said what would be even better is if we left out the housewarming part and just focused on celebrating my new book. He’s teaching me more and more how to step into my own spotlight rather than feel like I need to dim my light. One of the 846,748 reasons why I love him so much. 🙂

Once we found our house and signed the lease on our new place, planning really began in earnest. We set a date for the party and made an invitation on Facebook. We spread the word to our friends and family. I ordered cute raffle prizes featuring the book cover {coasters, a tote bag, a puzzle} and made bookmarks. We felt hugely motivated to get all of our boxes unpacked, our pictures hung on the walls, and everything organized before the party. {Which, if you’re willing to handle a bit of stress, I would totally recommend — never before have I felt “all moved in” so quickly!}

We planned out the food and the drinks, the seating and the mingling areas. I made a display of my books. Some of our guests volunteered to bring wine; others brought beer; others brought appetizers and veggies and sandwiches. The day of the party, I baked mini pumpkin muffins, set out paper plates and napkins, and organized plastic utensils into cups. I took a shower, dried my hair, carefully applied eyeshadow and mascara.

Everything looked beautiful. Everything was sparkling and clean and ready to go. Everything was exactly the way I had hoped it might be, back when Allyn and I began planning the party a month ago in our crammed-to-the-brim-with-boxes apartment.

I felt that excited, nervous energy that bubbles inside you when you are preparing to embark on something that you have been dreaming about for a very long time. Because this party wasn’t just about this one afternoon. Nor was it just about this new house we had claimed as our home, or about the 178 printed pages between two shiny covers of my published book. It was a party that had been years in the making. A party that, for a long time, I had thought would never come.

I sent out my short story manuscript for six long years before it won the Cypress & Pine Fiction Award from Yellow Flag Press and was accepted for publication. Six years of form rejection slips and crushed spirits and doubt. Six years of dreaming that, one day, I would hold this book in my hands and proudly share it with my friends and family. Six years of stubborn hope that these characters in my imagination were meant to leap into the hearts and minds of other people — that they weren’t just meant to live inside me.

And now, here I was, standing on the threshold of that day I had gazed at on the horizon of my life for so long.

My mother-in-law arrived first, bearing enormous platters of delicious sandwiches. We arranged them on the kitchen table and the island. We uncorked the wine. Then my grandparents arrived, with a cooler full of beer that we put on the back patio. We gave them the tour of the house. They helped themselves to sandwiches. Our dear friends Justin & Fawn arrived with their adorable baby boy, and it was so nice to visit with them in the kitchen, catching up on life. And yet, laughing there in the sunshine, an urgent panic began to rise within me.

What if no one else showed up? What if this party — that I had been dreaming about and working towards for so long — what if it was a total lame disappointment?

Allyn squeezed my hand. The minutes ticked by. The doorbell was silent. My phone beeped with text messages from friends and family members, explaining that they were so sorry but they could no longer make it. My panic gained strength, whispering in my ear like a mean girl in middle school:

This was a stupid idea. You never should have planned this party. You never should have put yourself out there like this. Now everyone is going to feel sorry for you. No one wanted to come to your party and no one cares about your book. You should have just stayed quiet and kept to yourself. Why did you even take this risk?

Panic doesn’t only visit us before we throw a big party. It comes whenever we try something new — when we step out of our comfort zones, launch a new venture, share something that is important to us. It comes when we express excitement about a new opportunity or decide to make a change in our lives — take time off work to travel; sign up for Whole 30; start a side-hustle; pursue a passion project. It comes when we plant our flag in the sand, stand tall in our truth, and say boldly, “This matters to me!” Because in doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable. Our high hopes might be crushed. Our beautiful plans might be met with lonely disappointment.

This inner voice of panic was familiar to me. I had felt it before many times in my life, which was actually a blessing because it helped me recognize what was happening. I spoke back to my panic. I talked my nervous heartbeat down from the ledge.

Shhh, shhh, calm down. It’s going to be okay. Look at these people around you. They came a long way to be here with you today. They’re happy for you. They’re proud of you. Focus on savoring these moments with them and loving the hell out of this experience while it is happening. This is precious and special. Right here. Right now. All the rest is just white noise from your ego. Let it go.

I think it is natural to feel that panic-before-the-party in many aspects of our lives. We make a decision focused on all the wonder and magic that might unfold, and then when we’re confronted with the messy reality we feel panicked that maybe we made the wrong decision. But I think that our inner voice of panic is actually a clue that we’re on the right path. That we’re growing.

The truth is, it would be easier to stay safe. To never risk that panic. But I don’t think “easy” is an ingredient in the recipe for a satisfying adventure in this one wild and precious life you have been given.

Another truth: so often, panic is short-sighted. It is focused on the immediate moment and spirals into despair. But so often, even when the reality is messier than you anticipated or there are a few bumps in the road, eventually things level out. You look back and realize that everything turned out even better than you had imagined it would. You are so grateful you made that leap and took that risk and tried that newness on for size. The voice of panic is completely washed away and it is easy to forget that it was ever there… until you plant another flag in the sand and the panic comes to visit again in full force.

I think panic loses its power when we recognize it as part of the process. It is simply part of the journey and we don’t have to listen to it. We can turn our head away and focus on the other voices in our hearts that are cheering us on.

Even if no one else had showed up to my party, it would not have been a disaster. It would have been a lovely intimate gathering with six of my favorite people. But more people did show up. First a slow trickle; then guests arrived all at once. Before I knew it, I looked up from arranging a bowl of fruit salad and realized our kitchen was crammed full of people, talking and eating and enjoying the afternoon. Later, everyone gathered in the living room and I read an excerpt from my book, and then champagne and Martinelli’s were poured and toasts were made. As I gazed around the room so filled with love and support, I felt tears prick my eyes. I kept thinking, This is it. This is it. This is it. 

This is what was waiting on the other side of the shore, during those years I swam through the cold waves of doubt and disappointment, wondering if I would ever reach that land I was striving towards.

This is what was waiting through the moments of panic and fear, uncertainty and envy, hopelessness and frustration.

This is what was waiting. And it was more than worth it.

When you finally do reach the shore — when the train does finally come — the struggle of the journey makes the celebratory champagne taste so much sweeter.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about the questions below that speak to you:

  • When is a time you have felt the “panic before the party” in your life? What did the panic say to you? What actually happened?
  • Write about a time you took a risk, felt doubt, but pushed through to a new opportunity.
  • What is a risk you long to take in your life now? How do you yearn to grow?

the {un}luckiest day

I.

December 23, 2017 was one of the unluckiest days of my life.

I was six weeks and two days pregnant, and Allyn and I could not have been more excited. We had been hoping and praying for a baby, and it seemed like such a crazy miracle when we saw that tiny blue “+” on the pregnancy test. I was so overwhelmed with joy that I found myself jumping up and down like a little kid on a trampoline as I exclaimed to Allyn, “Oh my god! Oh my god!” Over the coming days, as I felt my body already beginning to change, it was like I had the most delicious secret. Like I had a superpower. Like I was never alone, even when I was by myself running errands or driving to meet with a student or walking around the lake, because I had a precious little soul inside me, growing bigger every single day.

We made plans to share the news with our families and close friends over the holidays. I could not wait to celebrate our joyful news with them.

It was a Thursday afternoon when I felt the first sharp, cramping pain. I was on a Skype call with a student at the time and the pain was intense enough to be distracting. After we hung up, trying to calm my alarm, I googled “pregnancy cramps” and found out that what I was experiencing seemed to be normal. Still, I felt uneasy. I cancelled my next student session and took a nap.

The cramping would wax and wane, but it never fully went away. By Friday night, I was feeling worried, even though I told myself that I was probably overreacting just like I often do about health-related matters. {I have banned myself from going on WebMD because it always makes me convinced I am suffering from some deadly illness or rare malady.} I told Allyn that I wanted to go to Urgent Care the next morning, if only to get some reassurance. “Maybe I have a bladder infection or something,” I mused. I refused to let myself think that anything was wrong with our baby.

Yet, this despair was seeping through my bones. I refused to let myself think about it. But, in a deep inner place, I knew.

On Saturday, December 23, I woke up in a lot of pain. I curled onto my side and scrolled through online pregnancy forums on my phone. All of the women who described experiencing cramping during pregnancy wrote about how it lasted an hour or two, usually in the evening. They wrote about how warm compresses or shifting position would help alleviate the pain.

Tears pricked my eyes. Nothing was alleviating my pain. My pain was getting worse and worse.

I told Allyn I needed to go to Urgent Care. It was crowded, filled with coughing and sniffling people. The receptionist told me they did not have ultrasound equipment, and suggested I go next door to the E.R.

The E.R.? This wasn’t really an emergency, was it? I almost turned around and went home. I wanted so badly to just “tough it out” and pretend like nothing was happening, like nothing was wrong. Maybe if I ignored it, the pain would go away. What if this was totally normal and I was overreacting? We had plans to get lunch with friends and Allyn’s family. His brother Colin was only in town for a few days. Who knew how long we’d be stuck in the E.R. My overactive worried imagination would ruin all of our plans.

Still, something propelled me forward. We checked into the E.R. They called me back, gave me a wristband, assigned me a room. Nurses took my vitals and bloodwork, scheduled an ultrasound to “check things out.” It would be our first ever ultrasound. I couldn’t believe how much it hurt as the technician rubbed the wand over my belly, pressing down hard. I couldn’t see the screen. Allyn could, but it was impossible for him to read. The technician was silent. I kept hoping she would say, “Look, there’s your baby!” But she didn’t. In my mind, I talked to our baby, saying over and over, We love you so much. We love you so much already, sweetheart. It’s going to be okay. Eventually, I found myself praying. Please, please, please. 

They wheeled me back to my room. Allyn and I tried to watch a movie on the TV to distract ourselves, to pass the time. Eventually the nurse came back. Her face looked sad. “Do you know what an ectopic pregnancy is?” she asked.

I did. I had read about it on the pregnancy forums. An ectopic pregnancy is one that implants in the fallopian tube, instead of in the uterus.

She explained how ectopic pregnancies are not viable with life. How I would have to take medication to terminate the pregnancy. How, otherwise, my fallopian tube would rupture as the baby grew, and then my life would be at risk as well.

“We’re still waiting for the doctor to give us the final report from the ultrasound,” the nurse said. “But we’re afraid that’s what it looks like. We’re having trouble finding the pregnancy in the uterus. It’s possible that it is just very small at this point.”

Allyn and I held hands, clinging to the hope that maybe our baby was there, where it was supposed to be. Maybe it was just hard to see something so small, so early on. Maybe… maybe…

A short time later, the ob-gyn doctor on call came in. She showed us the ultrasound images, pointing out the gaping emptiness of my uterus. The emptiness hit me like a slap. I felt like I had done something wrong. Like my body had failed me — had failed our baby.

“There is nothing you did to cause this,” the doctor said, as if reading my mind. “You have no risk factors. You’re young and healthy. This is just extremely bad luck.”

Our bad luck worsened. She showed us the dark blobs on the ultrasound, explaining in a calm voice that it was blood. “You have a lot of internal bleeding,” she told me. “Your tube has already ruptured. We need to do surgery.”

“Surgery?” my mind was whirring. “When?”

“As soon as possible. When was the last time you ate anything?”

From then on, time compressed. Everything happened very quickly. I was prepped for surgery. I signed a bunch of forms. I called my parents. I held Allyn’s hand for as long as I could as they wheeled me down the hospital corridors to the operating room. I remember being in the operating room, worrying that I would somehow wake up in the middle of the procedure. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a hospital corridor. Allyn was there. “You did great,” he said softly. “Everything is okay.”

I had left our apartment that morning as a woman who was six weeks and two days pregnant. I returned as a normal woman again. Back to my previous self. Drained of my superpowers.

{source}

II.

December 23, 2017 was one of the luckiest days of my life.

Yes, it was one of the most terrible days I have ever experienced. But it could have been so much worse. It could have been the end of my life.

That morning, I absolutely did not want to go to the E.R. I wanted to shove the pain down and pretend it didn’t exist. But there was a little voice inside me, telling me not to do that. Telling me to listen to my body. And so I did. I’m so lucky that I did.

I’m so lucky that I have medical insurance. That this state-of-the-art hospital was just down the street. That, for whatever reason — maybe because it was two days before Christmas — the E.R. was not crowded. I was admitted and seen right away. I did not have to wait long to get my bloodwork and ultrasound results. Allyn and I were given a private room, which meant we had space to cry and grieve, alone together.

I was extremely lucky that the ob-gyn doctor on call that day happened to be MY ob-gyn, Dr. Garima Loharuka. A doctor I had built a relationship with, who knew my history, who knew me. A doctor I had just emailed the previous week to tell her I was pregnant, who swept into our room with the most loving aura of compassion, who gave me a big hug and said, “I am so sorry this is happening to you.” A doctor I trusted completely, who explained clearly and calmly what would happen, who answered our many questions with patience and grace. A doctor who got tears in her eyes right before I was wheeled into surgery, when I told her, “I am so glad you are here,” and she said, “There’s nowhere else I would be. I just really wish you didn’t have to be here right now.” A doctor who truly cared, and who made me feel like I was in the best hands.

I am so lucky that the operation went well — that my other fallopian tube and both of my ovaries are intact; that my doctor says I should be able to have heathy pregnancies in the future; that she says I should have no greater risk factor for another ectopic pregnancy.

I am so lucky to be living in the era of modern medicine, where surgery for an ectopic pregnancy is even possible. In the past, there would have been nothing they could have done. This would have killed me.

We are so lucky to have such amazing and supportive families. Allyn’s sister came to the hospital and brought Allyn food, since he never did each lunch, and sat with him while I was in surgery. She went to our apartment to bring me some comfortable sweatpants to change into after the operation, and she also brought me Mendo, the stuffed animal frog who lives on our bed, so I would have something to make me smile when I woke up. Plus she thoughtfully did our dishes and made our bed and tidied up our apartment.

I am lucky to have such a wonderful mother-in-law, who cooked an entire Christmas dinner at her home and then brought everything to our tiny apartment, where we crammed around the dinner table together and Colin fell asleep on the couch with a beer in his hand and I laughed for the first time since Allyn and I saw the tragic truth on those ultrasound images.

I am so lucky that my parents and my brother Greg were able to scrap our Christmas plans and take time off work and pile into the car and drive up to the Bay Area to spend the week with us. Being with them was such a healing balm for my heart. They watched a marathon of corny Hallmark Christmas movies with me, made sure I was eating and drinking enough, held my hand when I broke into tears. I felt incredibly nurtured and surrounded by love from our families and close friends, many of whom cried on the phone with me when I told them what had happened.

And I am incredibly lucky to have my husband. I told him that we have made it through our first real crisis together, and we have come through on the other side even more tightly joined. My love for him has only deepened and strengthened through this ordeal. Despite his own grief and pain, he was my rock through it all — never wavering in his comforting presence. He was my advocate, asking questions and making sure I had everything I needed. He filled my prescriptions and kept track of when I needed to take my medications. He got up in the middle of the night to help me out of bed when I had to use the bathroom, since I wasn’t supposed to use my ab muscles at all {where much of my internal bleeding was} and he gently laid me back down into bed when I was done. He helped me walk. He knelt and dried off my legs after the shower because it hurt my abs to bend down. He tucked away my pregnancy and baby books into a drawer so I wouldn’t have to face them. He held me. He hugged me. He told me, “The most important thing is that you’re okay.” When I felt like a failure, he convinced me otherwise.

The grief of this experience has made Allyn and I even more grateful for each other. We’ve always tried not to take our life together for granted, but I think that our gratitude run even deeper now. Nor do we take a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby for granted. When it comes — and hopefully it will come for us, one day — we will cherish it with every fiber of our beings.

I still feel sad sometimes. I still mourn the baby we lost. And yet, I do feel hopeful. I am hopeful that we will someday get to experience the joy of a rainbow baby after this heartbreaking storm.

In my entire life, the unluckiest day of all was January 26, 2015, when Celine was killed. But there is comfort to think of her somewhere out there, lovingly cuddling the soul of this baby we will never meet here on Earth, but who will always live in our hearts.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Turn to a new page in your journal or open a new document on your computer, and use the following prompts as “jumping off” points:

  • Write about one of your unluckiest days. Write about everything that was so painful about the experience. Letting it out helps to let go of it.
  • Now, see if you can find any threads of luck in that day. Is there anything you can be grateful for? Anything that could have been worse? Any ways in which you were spared? Any lessons you have learned from it?
  • Write a love letter to someone who was there for you during one of your bleakest times.

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?