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 {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.

you take home with you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

red-rimmed, clear eyes + broken, full hearts {part 2}

{If you missed Part 1, you can read it here!}

My mom flew out the final week to help me move on and wrap up my Indiana life. Three years before, she had driven out to West Lafayette with me and helped me move into my first solo apartment. There was a kind of poetry to her presence, at the end of my time there, just as she had been there with me for the beginning. So much had changed, and yet the important things were still the same. There she was, my mom, still helping me arrange the pieces, still helping make the mess manageable.

When things need to get done, my mom goes into hyper-drive. She made lists and made phone calls. With kindness and gentleness, she listened to me and dried my tears, and she also kept me moving forward, checking things off the to-do list. We dropped carloads of items off at Goodwill. We sold my furniture. We sold my car. We packed and shipped home two huge boxes of my possessions.

{At the Indianapolis airport, ready to fly home}

When the late spring sun would plunge down below the horizon, it was our signal that our work was done for the day. I would throw together something random for dinner out of the remaining ingredients in my pantry. We would open a bottle of wine. Then we’d collapse on the couch, exhausted, and select the “Play All” option on the disk of Friday Night Lights. We binge-watched the entirety of season five together over a couple days. At the end of the last episode, we both got a little teary. To be honest, that was a time in my life when I cried easily; after so long of holding my emotions in, it was like I had no control anymore and tears came storming out of my eyes at every opportunity. I remember sobbing as I watched the Katy Perry biography on HBO later that summer, during the part when she and Russell Brand broke up, and she sang, “Hey Jude.”

But I digress.

I think there were a lot of reasons I got teary during the final episode of Friday Night Lights. I think, when Allyn and I watch it soon, I will probably get teary again. There’s something about the end of a story that makes us want to grasp on tighter, that makes us sad to let go. Even when we know it is time for us to move on. We’re like little kids riding our bikes around the neighborhood cul-de-sac at dusk, begging the sunlight to linger for a few more minutes. We lean towards the TV screen, soaking in the familiar settings and faces, wanting to sit with the characters for just a little while longer. The final music swells, and our hearts break a little. We just can’t believe that it’s over already. It all went by so fast! So many episodes we took for granted, and now all of a sudden it’s done.

TV shows are like life that way. I think we could live for a thousand years and we’d still never be quite ready to let go of this gorgeous, impossible, imperfectly perfect humanness.

{photo from Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago: http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/Chagall}

 

Watching that final season of Friday Night Lights with my mom on the lumpy couch of that temporary subleased apartment, I smiled to myself. I realized that the show had been shouting out a message to me all along. For all of those weeks and months when I was studying the episodes, searching for meaning in the characters’ whispers and confessions and relationships, there was a line of recurring wisdom that I kept missing and missing. It’s a line that Coach Taylor says to his players throughout all five seasons. His motto. His way of life.

CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE.

For so long, my eyes had been clouded. For so long, my heart had been empty. Sitting on that couch beside my mom, my belongings packed up to move back to California, my Facebook status newly changed to “Single,” I didn’t know what the future would hold. But my vision was clear, for the first time in a long time. My life was mine again. And even though my heart was breaking, and even though it was hard to imagine ever being strong enough to be vulnerable enough to fall in love again, I knew that my heart was also more full than it had been in a long time. Ending my unhealthy relationship had been a radical act of love for myself.

It would be a while yet before I met Allyn, but I like to think that the day I ended my unhealthy relationship was the day I stepped onto the path that would lead me to him. I chose him—and our amazing, wonderful, beautiful partnership—when I chose the pain of listening to my gut. I remember thinking, “This is for you, Future Dallas. This sucks for me right now, but I’m doing it for you. Please don’t waste this. Please never settle.”

If I could reach back through time and talk to Past Dallas, that terrified and terribly brave young woman who stepped into her truth, this is what I would tell her:

Thank you for doing what you knew was right. Thank you for taking the hard path. Thank you for believing in me, your future self. Thank you for planting the seeds of this life. Hang in there. It’s going to be so worth it. More than worth it. I can’t wait for you to see what happens next.

 

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 freewriting:

  • What are your all-time favorite TV shows? What lessons or impacts have they had on your life?
  • Write about a time in your life that was both terrible and beautiful.
  • When have you listened to that clear inner voice and stepped into your truth, even when it was painful? Write about what that experience was like for you.
  • What would you tell your Past Self if you could reach back through time?

what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever. Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

{source}

III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. 😉

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

Céline, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?

it’s okay to feel sad sometimes

Last week, for whatever reason, I found myself in a bit of a funk.

I typically wake up feeling excited to face the day, raring to go on my projects. I typically feel focused and motivated about my daily tasks. I typically look at the clock and can’t believe how late it’s gotten. Where did the day go? Is it time to start dinner already?

But last week, I was dragging. Last week, I felt stuck. I felt lonely and restless and, most of all… sad.

And I couldn’t pinpoint the reason. Everything was the same as it had always been.

It makes me feel vulnerable to write these words to you right now. It scares me a bit, to admit to feeling sad. Especially because I know that I have so very much to be grateful for. I used to feel guilty anytime feelings of sadness crept in. Like I wasn’t allowed to ever feel anything less than joyful and blessed. I wanted to be strong and self-reliant and cheerful, always. I wanted to comfort other people and never need comfort myself. I liked to think of myself as a giver, not someone who needed to cheering up.

But I realized that pretending to never feel sad is simply another way of building a wall around myself, pretending to be something I’m not, refusing to let people truly see me. I was trying to be “perfect” instead of trying to live wholeheartedly and authentically. I can be grateful for all the bounty and beauty in my life, and still have hard days and still feel down sometimes. I can hold both gratitude and sadness in my heart at the same time. And, I realized that never wanting to need anyone else is just another way of never wanting to be vulnerable. I like being able to give comfort to others. I need to trust that others like being able to give comfort to me sometimes.

Last week, I cried more than I’ve cried in the last six months put together. It seemed anything could set off the tears. Listening to a podcast about an empty-nest couple, the bittersweet pride in their voices as they talked about their youngest child heading off to college. Thinking about Mr. Murray, sleeping on the rug by the front door, and wishing that I lived in the same town as my parents, that I could walk right in and surprise him with a ginormous hug. That commercial with the ostrich who learns to fly, Elton John’s “Rocket Man” playing in the background. It was like I walked around with this constant lump in my throat, just waiting to see what would cause the tears to spill forth.

It was so weird. It was so not the version of myself I have come to believe in over the past three decades. I have never been a crier.

One afternoon my brother called to say hi—a routine thing for us—and after a few minutes of talking, I started crying. Like, ugly crying, the kind when you can’t fully catch your breath, and you stay quiet on the line because you know as soon as you try to talk your voice will break again.

My brother was so great, as he always is. He sat on a bench outside the bar where he was meeting some friends for happy hour, and he patiently stayed on the line and talked to me for a little while until I was ready to hang up. He didn’t sound alarmed by my weepiness. He didn’t rattle off a list of things I should do to feel better. He didn’t tell me all the reasons I shouldn’t be feeling the way I was feeling—all the reasons I should only feel joyful in my wonderful life. Instead, he told me that it was okay to feel sad sometimes. He told me to let myself feel what I was feeling. He reminded me that, even though I was feeling genuine sadness in that moment, that the sadness wasn’t going to last forever. That I would begin to feel better soon. And, in the meantime, he told me how much he loved me. He said that multiple times, and each time he said it I began to cry again—but out of gratitude and love for him more than sadness. When we hung up the phone, I still felt sad, but I felt so much better than I had before he called me.

My wish for everyone reading this is that you have a friend in your life like I have my brother. Someone who knows you, at times, better than you know yourself. Someone who isn’t afraid of your ugly crying. Someone who says exactly what you need to hear, exactly when you need to hear it.

{This photo was taken shortly after another time I cried with Greg, when I was visiting him in NYC. It was shortly after Celine died and I was hit with a huge wave of missing her.}

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t tend to get angry or annoyed or frustrated very easily. I don’t yell or snap at people very often. When I get tired, I don’t get crabby. I get sad.

Growing up, when I would feel weepy, my mom would say gently, “Dallas, honey. Go to sleep. You’re tired. You’ll feel so much better when you wake up.”

She was pretty much always right. I would feel better after a nice nap.

So that’s what I still do, if it’s a possibility, when I notice myself feeling “off.” I take a nap, or I sleep in late, or I go to bed early. And I do usually feel a bit better when I open my eyes again. Like the gray film over the world has been swept away. The light seems a little clearer, a little more sparkly.

Other things that made me feel a bit better last week: reading for pleasure; drinking tea and eating dark chocolate; texting with family and friends and Allyn; doing some yoga; going for a walk outside; working on my novel and surprising myself with the story; watching silly videos online; going to the dentist {I was worried I had a cavity, but I didn’t!}

This week, I’m back to feeling much more like myself. The waves of sadness I felt last week seem almost like a strange dream. But I know they’ll be back at some point, because that sadness is a part of me just as happiness is. My varied emotions are all puzzle pieces that fit together into the beautiful, complex mess of being human. As Brooke Castillo reminds us in many of her podcasts, life is about contrast. We wouldn’t have light without darkness. We wouldn’t have happiness without sadness.

In order to embrace my deepest, truest self, I have to be brave enough to acknowledge all of my emotions, not just the ones that make me feel strong and comfortable. I’m learning that embracing my sadness does not give it power over me, as I once thought it would. Just the opposite: only by opening up about feeling down—to myself as well as to others—am I able to move through the discomfort, and, eventually, to move past it.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • When was the last time you felt sad, or angry, or frustrated, or “off” in some way? Was there a certain reason, or was it harder to pin down?
  • What helps you feel better when you’re feeling down?
  • What advice would you give a friend who calls you feeling upset? What might happen if you shared those same gentle words and generous spirit with your own self and your own heart?
  • What is an emotion that makes you uncomfortable? How might you take small baby steps to embrace this emotion in your life?

my cheerleader

Happy Friday, friends! I hope you are having a wonderful day and that you have some fun weekend plans on the horizon. Allyn and I are starting a new tradition, which I originally heard about on the Happier podcast, of planning a surprise date for each other once a month. We’re switching off month to month, and tomorrow is my turn to surprise him with a fun date! {Related post: 10 ways to save money on date night.} Other than that, our weekend should be nice and relaxing. I’m hoping to knock out some around-the-house projects, and tonight I am way too excited about heating up a frozen pizza and watching Netflix in my pajamas with my hubby!

Today I wanted to share with you guys an essay I wrote about my mother-in-law Barbara that appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! and was recently published on Sweatpants and Coffee.

My Cheerleader

Before I met the man who would become my husband, I worried. First, I worried if I would ever meet him at all. Then I worried if he would take my career seriously—I am a writer, and I know from experience that it is one thing for someone to say they support and value your work, and quite another for someone to actually stand by you, quiet and staunch comfort through the years of rejection and uncertainty, without ever so much as implying that maybe you should get “a real job.”

Finally, I worried about his mother.

I do possess qualities that mothers tend to appreciate. I am calm, steady, a good listener, a practical dresser. I am relatively tidy, do not drink or smoke, and love to bake. However, I am also an artist—and more than one mother of a previous boyfriend has treated this aspect of my life with palpable condescension, or at the very least a complete lack of understanding. The mother of the man before the man I married—the mother of the man I almost married—had wrinkled her nose in confusion every time my writing came up in conversation, and talked with pointed admiration about all the young women she knew who were making “good, honest money” in traditional office careers, with paid vacation time and Monday-Friday workweeks. When I received a prestigious writing fellowship to move to California and work on a book, it came as no surprise that she didn’t see why I would ever take it—and, it quickly became apparent, neither did her son. When we broke up, I vowed to myself that I would not settle for anything less than a partner who truly appreciated and valued my writing career. However, it seemed like too much to hope for a mother-in-law who would do the same.

I met Allyn, the man who became my husband, on a rainy February night at an ice cream shop, when no one in her right mind would be craving ice cream. It felt like something out of a movie: the fogged-up windows, the cozy warmth of our conversation, the ice cream melting in our small paper cups as we talked and talked. It was immediately obvious how close Allyn is to his family—as I am to my family—a trait I very much admire. But it made me even more nervous to meet his mother…

You can read the rest of the essay here.

 

Have a masterpiece day, my friends! Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the internet!

mom to the rescue

I was a freshman in high school, playing in a weekend basketball tournament down in San Diego. It was the off-season and this was sort of like an extra-credit team, separate from the high school team. It was for those of us who wanted to improve and hone our skills before the real season started up again. My parents weren’t able to come to this tournament because my dad had to work and my younger brother had a track meet. My mom was president of the youth track club and had a million-and-one things to do at the meets—especially back then, in the days of dirt tracks and non-computer timing. Plans were made for me to drive down and stay in a hotel room with one of my new teammates and her mom. I didn’t know her very well, but she seemed nice. My parents made me promise to call between games and tell them how I did.

After the first two games, I felt close to tears. I had traveled all this way… just to sit on the bench. They weren’t even close games, but the coach didn’t put me in once. I felt embarrassed and unworthy. Like everyone was laughing at me behind my back. Why was I even on this team? I had busted my butt in practice, the same as everyone else. Why was I singled out as not good enough to get a chance in the game?

{Side note: at the time, I thought this was unfair, but I also felt to blame. Like there was something wrong with me and that was the reason I sat on the bench the whole game. Now that I’m older and can look back with some perspective, it makes me angry. This was a high school basketball summer league. This wasn’t even Varsity, but Junior Varsity. This was not the WNBA. These games were not life-and-death. If I was good enough to make the team, I should have been good enough to play in the games. Coaches of our youth need to remember the power and influence they hold. Sports are meant to build up the confidence and character of kids and teens—not tear them down. For a long time, basketball was something that tore me down and made me feel bad about myself. But that’s a post for another time…}

When I called during a break after our second game, my mom answered the phone. “Hi sweetie, how’d it go?” she asked.

“I didn’t play,” I reported numbly.

“What?” she said. “What do you mean?”

“I sat on the bench the whole time.” I bit my lip, trying to keep the shame from leaking out of my eyes. I wanted more than anything to teleport home, to my snuggly warm bed, where I could just pretend this weekend never happened.

“Sit tight,” my mom said. There was a firmness in her voice I recognized. My mom is the kindest woman I’ve ever met, yet she is also the fiercest. She has taught me, by example, that one should never mistake kindness for weakness. “Hang in there, Dal. I’m on my way.”

I’m on my way. When you are feeling sad and alone, are there any more beautiful words in the English language than those?

Never mind that my mom was exhausted from being on her feet, running around, leading the track meet all day. Never mind that it was a 3-hour drive to San Diego. Never mind that I would be home the next day. She knew I needed her right then. So she was coming, right then.

You know in books and movies, when a superhero will sweep down from the sky and save the day? That is how it felt in my little world when my mom arrived that evening. She swept me off to dinner, and suddenly I could breathe again. I was safe again. I could just be myself. I could cry if I wanted to. I could be angry if I wanted to. I could be anything I wanted to. My mom was there with me.

The tournament continued the next day, and even though a large part of me wanted to just quit and go home early, a larger part of me did not want to be a quitter. I wanted to stick it out. I was hopeful that maybe I would get game time the next day. Mom said not to worry, she would get a hotel room and I could stay with her. The next day, we would go to my games, and hopefully I would play. And then she would take me home.

Only… the hotel where our team was staying was booked up. “No problem,” Mom told me. “We’ll just go to a different hotel nearby.”

As we drove around, every hotel glared at us with NO VACANCY lit up in red fluorescent lights. Later, we would find out that there was a NASCAR event in the city that same weekend, and all the hotels were booked up for miles around.

We drove and drove and drove. Eventually, when we had almost given up hope, we found a motel with one room available. The person working the front desk excitedly informed us that it was the king-sized suite with the whirlpool jacuzzi tub. I don’t remember much about that room. I’m sure it was overpriced. I do remember we were both too scared to try the ancient jacuzzi tub. The bed was probably not very comfortable, but I slept like a baby because I was just so relieved to have my mom there with me.

That basketball tournament may not seem like a big deal, but it was for me then. I felt so lonely at the beginning of that weekend, but then my mom came and the rest of the weekend I felt so loved. Her presence turned everything around.

That was just one of many times my mom has come to my rescue. When I broke up with my first real boyfriend, I flew from Los Angeles to the Bay Area because we were long-distance and I wanted to do it in person. Then I had to fly back home. I am usually a nervous flyer, but I was not nervous on that flight because I was too overwhelmed and sad. My mom picked me up from the Burbank airport with a chai tea latte from Starbucks and a great big hug, and seeing her made me feel just a little bit better. Four years later, she would be the one boarding a plane, this time to Indiana, to come to my rescue in the aftermath of the second big break-up of my life. She helped me pack up my belongings, sell my car and all my furniture, and tie up all the loose ends of that chapter of my life. I remember eating cheese and crackers and drinking wine, binge-watching Friday Night Lights together. I remember her neat lists of tasks that brought order to the days and made me feel less unmoored. I remember laughing with her about some childhood memory, and feeling for the first time like I would be more than okay—that I would not just survive, but thrive, without him. My mom has always made me feel stronger than I feel by myself.

I know that Mother’s Day has come and gone, and this post might seem a little belated. But for some reason, the memory of that hotel with the whirlpool jacuzzi tub popped into my head this morning, and it made me think about my mom, and all the times she has dropped everything without a second thought to come to my aid. As a child, it is easy to take that sort of thing for granted. Now, as an adult, I feel suffused with gratitude that I somehow got so lucky to have her as my mother.

Sometimes, when I am feeling discouraged, I think of driving with my mom down that nighttime freeway towards the next exit, searching for a hotel room in the midst of all of those NO VACANCY signs. At times, that can feel like a metaphor for life. At times, it can seem like there will never be a room that is meant for you. But, I promise, there will be. You just need to keep driving long enough to find it.

When I get discouraged, I try to remind myself of that night. Because it was not an experience of despair. In fact, I don’t even remember feeling very worried. I felt sure that, eventually, we would find what we were looking for. And I was content, in the meantime, to be in the passenger seat, my mom behind the wheel, Bonnie Raitt singing on the radio. I looked out the window at the lights of San Diego, dotting the hillsides like fallen stars. I knew everything was going to be okay. After all, I had Mom by my side.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as jumping-off points for some “free-writing” of your own:

  • What are some memories your treasure with your mom?
  • When has someone come to your rescue? When have you come to the rescue of others?
  • If you ever feel lost or discouraged, what gentle words might inspire you to keep going?

highlights of 2016

Hello, hello, my long-lost friends! I feel like the universe is laughing at me, because pretty much as soon as I hit the “publish” button on my last post {oh, you know, the one about how I was aiming to have a minimal, simple holiday season}… alllll of the craziness descended! Isn’t that just the way life works sometimes? I think there were a lot of factors that contributed to my month of extreme overwhelm, including work stuff and my first holiday season as a married woman {!!!}… but, suffice to say, one of my top goals for this next year is to establish a more sustainable work-life balance and to strengthen my boundary-setting muscles!

I can’t believe we are already here, in the first days of 2017. When I think back to my life at this time last year, it is unbelievable how much has changed. What a year it has been! 2016 has been a year of contradicting emotions for me: perhaps the best-ever year in my personal life, but a very rough year as far as our nation and the larger world are concerned. Here’s hoping that 2017 is filled with greater love, deeper connections, and a broad, fierce effort to fight injustice and hatred wherever they rear their ugly heads.

One of my favorite rituals at the end of each year is to look back on my best memories from each month. Here are my highlights of 2016…

January

My sweetie and I moved into an apartment together! It was so exciting to take this big step in our relationship, and to begin building a home together. I love our cozy apartment! If you missed it, here is a little tour.

bookshelves

I also chopped off eight inches of my hair to donate in honor of my dear friend Celine. It was the perfect way to remember her on the one-year anniversary of her death.

for celine

On the last weekend in January, Allyn took me on a surprise getaway to the beautiful Russian River valley celebrate our two-year dating anniversary… and he got down on one knee! Getting engaged to the love of my life was the absolute best way to kick off 2016!

me and al redwoods

February

We drove down to Ventura to celebrate with my family, and began to start planning our wedding! We set the date for September 4th, which is my parents’ wedding anniversary.

Al and I engaged

Also in February… my mom flew up to help me go wedding dress shopping and meet with vendors, and I said “yes” to the dress!

wedding-dress-try-on

March

I flew home to Ventura to celebrate Easter with my parents, and then attended the AWP writers conference in Los Angeles. It was absolutely wonderful to meet up with old friends from undergrad and grad school! And I always find writers conferences so motivating and energizing for my own work. Often, as a writer, you spend a great deal of time in solitude, so it is important to engage with the writing community whenever you are able!

April

Greg was in Berkeley for a work conference, so my parents and I met up with him in San Francisco for a brief little family vacation! It was so fun to spend some time in the city with my fam. We climbed Coit Tower, wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf, sipped famous Irish coffees and ate delicious Italian food.

fam-sf-trip

May

Allyn took me out to dinner in San Francisco and to a concert of one of my favorite-ever musicians, Amber Rubarth — the next day, I wrote her a letter about what her music has meant to me over the years, and to my surprise and joy, she responded!

me and amber rubarth 2

Memorial Day weekend, Allyn and I drove down to Ventura to celebrate my dad’s birthday and my 29th birthday {my long-awaited “golden” birthday!} with lots of cake, delicious home-cooked meals, and a family mini-golf outing! {Allyn got not one, but TWO hole-in-ones! His reign as Mini-Golf Champion continues…}

fam-golf-outing

June

I published the second “Dancing With The Pen” anthology of stories, essays and poetry by young writers! This was a true labor of love and I am so proud of all of these amazing young writers who I feel truly blessed to work with. Such an inspiration!

dancing-with-the-pen-kiddos

dancing-in-my-possession

Also in June, my wonderful mother-in-law threw me a beautiful bridal shower… I felt utterly “showered” with love!

me with aunts

me with sunflower plate

In June, I also began teaching extracurricular high school literature and writing classes through an organization in San Jose, which is something I really enjoy! I have been doing individual private teaching the past several years, but I missed the dynamics of classroom teaching from my grad-school days at Purdue.

July

I took my first-ever trip to Hawaii! It was so fun and relaxing to spend a week soaking up the sun on the Big Island with Allyn’s fam. I also checked off a couple “bucket list” activities like swimming with manta rays and learning to snorkel! It was extra special getting to see the Mauna Kea resort where my grandparents spent so many wonderful vacations together.

shave-ice

From Hawaii, I flew to Southern California to teach two weekends of Summer Writing Camp — one of my favorite teaching gigs each year. The kids have such amazing creative energy, and I love getting to witness their joy and unfettered enthusiasm for writing.

In Ventura, I also hosted a screening of the documentary film Minimalism and was elated when it SOLD OUT. This was an example for me of diving into a new challenge, working hard, and building a success! If I hadn’t taken the risk of volunteering to host the screening, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience our community coming together in such an inspiring way.

minimalism-screening

Speaking of community… one final highlight of July was the surprise bridal shower that my aunt Kymmie threw for me in Ventura! I was utterly shocked and it was absolutely wonderful to get to celebrate with my hometown friends and family who hadn’t been able to make it up north for my other bridal shower. {I know, what a blessed lady I am to have not one, but two amazingly generous showers!} We played some fun and hilarious games, ate scrumptious food, and I felt so filled with laughter and love.

August

I taught summer camps in writing, reading, and public speaking. We attended a beautiful wedding of family friends in the quaint beach town of Bolinas. And the rest of August was a blur of our own wedding preparations!

at-katie-carlos-wedding

September

Besides the day my brother was born, September 4, 2016 was the absolute best day of my life. Allyn and I got married! Celebrating our union with so many of our dear family and friends was incredible. Even months later, I can’t begin to put it into words.

me-and-al-xmas-card

We honeymooned in Yosemite, which was magical and relaxing and everything a honeymoon should be!

me al yosemite

honeymoon dessert

After we returned from our honeymoon in paradise, I began teaching a Creative Writing class for high schoolers every week in San Jose. It has been a great way to flex my teaching muscles, and my students grew so much over the course of the semester!

October

We went to a darling pumpkin patch where we conquered another corn maze, and attended the neat Lumination festival of lights in Gilroy.

Allyn pumpkin patch

dragon lumination

October was also filled with lots of fun travels! We spent a weekend visiting my cousin Arianna at Chico State, where she is a freshman.

visiting-arianna-chico

My dad joined me for a weekend getaway up to Seattle, courtesy of the amazingly generous Bill and Micki, to attend Amber Rubarth’s House Concert at their lovely home! It was a truly masterpiece trip that I will remember for all my life.

me and dad chowder seattle

We also enjoyed exploring Seattle, including the amazing Chihuly Glass Museum — WOW!

chihuly museum

At the end of October, I flew down to Los Angeles, where I met up with my brother to attend a Blind Pilot concert — one of our favorite bands! Greg is such an awesome concert buddy and we had a blast together.

gb blind pilot

That night after the concert, we drove to Ventura and surprised Mom for her birthday! The shock on her face when we walked through the front door was absolutely priceless.

surprising mom

November

The highlight of November for me was spending Thanksgiving in New Orleans with my fam! It was so much fun to take a getaway trip with them to such a vibrant destination. My parents and Greg had never been there before, so Allyn and I had a fun time showing them around the city we had many fond memories of, from back when I visited Allyn during his summer internship there in 2014. We went to jazz concerts every night, followed by a late-night dessert of beignets. We explored the Garden District and the French Quarter. We took a steamboat cruise down the Mississippi, found the former homes of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, cheered on the streets during a parade, and ate Thanksgiving dinner at an Italian restaurant. All in all, it was a perfect trip!

thanksgiving-parade

new orleans architecture

boys eating beignets

December

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this epically long post, December was a whirlwind. The definite highlights were getting to spend time with Allyn’s family and my family: we spent Christmas Eve & Christmas with Allyn’s family, and New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day with my family. It was exciting to share our first holiday season together as a married couple!

me-and-al-xmas-eve

our stockings

christmas list

On to 2017…

I am excited to see what highlights this next year holds! Here’s to making memories with those we love and savoring every minute of this precious life we share together.