find someone who is kind

My grandma likes to tell a story about the first time she met my dad. At this point, my parents had been dating for almost two years and were engaged to be married in a matter of months. Shortly after my mom went off to college, my grandpap got transferred from California to Delaware for his job. Rather than being a few hours’ drive away, my grandparents were now living across the country. They knew about my dad, of course. Grandpap had met him once when he was out in California for work and visited UCSB. But my grandma had never met my dad when my mom called with the big news that she was engaged.

Grandma had never met my dad… but she discovered that she did know his parents. In an incredible small-world coincidence, all four of my grandparents attended the same small college of Wittenburg in Springfield, Ohio right after WWII. Grandma, Grandpap, and Grandma Auden were all in the same class; Gramps was a few years older. They were in different fraternities and sororities, but they were acquaintances who had some close friends in common. Then they graduated, got married, lost touch, and had children. Both families separately moved from Ohio to Southern California in the early 1970’s. My parents grew up just a couple hours away from each other, in Ventura and Northridge. Then my parents each chose to attend UCSB, and met each other at a party around Christmastime through mutual friends.

My grandma was comforted to realize that the man her daughter had fallen in love with was Jim & Audrey’s son. When the two sets of parents were reunited before the wedding, Auden pulled Grandma aside and said, “Don’t worry, Mary Lou. He is very kind.”

Kind is definitely one of the first words I would use to describe my father. He is gentle, thoughtful, compassionate, and loving. This past Easter, when I was visiting my parents and had to get my blood drawn {which is always an ordeal for me with my tiny veins} he sat beside me and held my hand. He slips cards into my purse just as he used to slip notes into my lunchbox. He and my mom have shown me that kindness is a source of strength.

So it is perhaps not a surprise that when I was looking for the person I would share my life with, the first word at the top of my list was kind. I wanted to find a partner who was kind, gentle, and compassionate. Who made me feel understood and loved, even when I didn’t understand or love myself. Who would be a beacon of comfort in a world that can, at times, be a very harsh place.

{photo credit Allyson McAuley}

When I came across Allyn’s photo on an online dating website, I was immediately drawn to his kind smile. I felt that quiet kindness emanating through his spirit on our first date, when he looked at me with his smiling eyes and listened attentively to all my stories. Kindness was the first quality that drew me to him. And, years later, it remains the quality of his that I am most grateful for.

I don’t think kindness gets much attention in the language we use to discuss romance. We talk about mystery and intrigue; sex appeal and beauty; passion and attraction. And all of those things are important. But I do think that, as a society, we focus too much on the “flashier” traits that are on the surface. Those traits that lessen over time as you build a life together, as you grow older together, as you let each other in on the secret intricacies and intimacies of your true selves. Allyn is less of a mystery to me now than when we met, and I am surely less of a mystery to him. Instead of meeting up for a dinner date all gussied up, he sees me when I am sick and when I am tired and when I have just woken up in the morning with crusty eyes and messy hair. When that whirlwind of initial romance ebbs into a steady partnership, and that newness melts away into the familiar, what you’re left with is the bedrock of your connection with each other.

To me, it is most important that it be a foundation built on kindness.

I am witness to my husband’s kindness every single day. When he comes up behind me and gives me a hug for no reason. When he opens the car door for me or insists on carrying in most of the groceries. When he traps the spider and carries it outside rather than killing it. The way he sends thank-you notes and mails birthday cards. The sweet way he hugs my grandma whenever we see her. I hear the kindness in his voice on the phone — not just when he talks to me, but also when he’s on the phone with his mom or his sister. When we go visit his great-aunt Flo and take her grocery shopping, and Allyn holds her purse so she won’t lose it, gently guiding the cart through the aisles to find her oranges and graham crackers and milk. I feel the warmth of his kindness every time he holds my hand when we walk down the street, or pauses to say hello to a neighbor, or picks up a piece of litter that had blown out of someone’s trash can.

I am so proud of his kindness. So proud to be married to him.

 

When Allyn and I first moved in together, I was concerned about keeping our “spark” alive. I didn’t want us to descend into roommates, losing any semblance of mystery or romance. I refrained from doing certain grooming tasks like plucking my eyebrows or trimming my fingernails around him. We never left the door open while peeing. When we dressed up to go on date nights, I would get dressed by myself in our bedroom so I could open the door and make my entrance. {I still like to do this — it’s just more fun that way!}

We made it through almost our first two years of living together, and the first year and a half of our marriage, before we broke these rules. Or, should I say, transcended them. When I underwent emergency surgery due to an ectopic pregnancy, suddenly I needed my husband in a way I never had before. I woke up in the hospital bed after my surgery, and I glimpsed a new layer of love in Allyn’s eyes. He kept telling me, “All that matters is that you’re okay.” That evening, before I was able to go home, the nurses wanted me to use the restroom. I felt too unsteady to walk across the hall by myself, plus I was attached to an IV pole with cumbersome wires. So Allyn held my hand and helped me slowly shuffle into the restroom. He held my arms and helped me sit down on the toilet. He stood right there as I peed. I realized I was breaking that cardinal rule I had set when we moved in together. I had believed that peeing in front of each other would be the furthest thing from romance. But, in that cold hospital bathroom, as my husband bent down to help me pull my panties back up, I felt more connected to him than I ever had before. It was a beautifully romantic moment in an ocean of grief.

In the following days and weeks, my husband’s steady kindness became my well of comfort. He helped me out of bed in the middle of the night to take my pills, then gently helped me lie back down into bed. He dried my legs off after I showered because I wasn’t supposed to bend down yet. He brought me saltine crackers and popsicles and refilled my water glass. He stroked my hair and told me how beautiful I was and how amazed he was by my strength. In those days and weeks of healing, I felt stripped down to my barest self. And my husband gazed with awe at that raw, vulnerable part of me and said, “I have never loved you more than I do right now.”

It was not the stuff of romance novels. It was not the scenes I dreamed about on those lonely nights when I was single, imagining my future husband. But since going through that trying and intimate experience together, our attraction to each other has only grown and deepened. Allyn’s kindness makes me fall more and more in love with him every day.

 

I still close the bathroom door when I pluck my eyebrows and trim my nails and pee. I still hope that I retain a bit of mysterious intrigue in my husband’s eyes. But, one of the sweetest moments of our nightly routine comes right before we turn out the bedroom light, when Allyn says, “Ready for me to do your eyes?” I have dry eyes, so my doctor recommended putting in these nighttime eye drops. It is more like an eye gel, much harder than putting in normal eye drops, and I am terribly unsuccessful at doing it to myself. After witnessing me poking myself in the eye and squeezing eye gel onto the bridge of my nose, Allyn said, “Would you like me to help you with that?” So now, every night, I hold open my eyelids while he carefully puts the gel into each of my eyes.

My sweet, thoughtful, kind husband. I feel so lucky to have him. I am so glad I picked him, and he picked me.

Every night, I blink my wet eyes, put the tube of eye drops back down on my bedside table, and turn onto my side. Allyn flips off the light and kisses me goodnight. His hand finds mine under the covers as we drift off to sleep together.

To me, it doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • What traits are most important to you in a partner? Why?
  • Write about a time someone has shown you kindness. What happened? What did it mean to you?
  • Write about an experience when you were forced to be vulnerable around someone else. What happened? What did you learn from the experience?
  • Think about some of the most romantic experiences in your life. Would they be considered conventionally romantic? Did any of them surprise you?

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?

“clean out the pantry” zucchini muffins

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

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

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

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

“clean out the pantry” zucchini-banana muffins

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

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

house-hunting lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

valentine’s day in six parts

I. Seventh grade.

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

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

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

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

II. Ninth grade.

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

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

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

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

III. Freshman year of college.

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

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

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

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

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

IV. Junior year of college.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V. Four years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VI. Today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

be like the ducks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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