what our boston fern has taught me about self-care

When Allyn and I moved into our apartment together, his sister gifted us with the perfect housewarming present: a beautiful large Boston fern. I have never possessed the greenest of thumbs, but I really wanted a houseplant—both for aesthetic reasons and to help clean the air of toxins in our new little home. From what I read online, ferns did not seem too difficult to take care of. Allyn and I christened him “San Fern-ando” and snuggled him into his new home beside our bookshelf, in the pretty blue pot and stand that Allyson had also bought for us.

{Allyn and San Fernando}

House plants are funny creatures. They don’t talk; they don’t wander around; they don’t whine or sigh or thump the floor with their tails like pets do. But they are definitely alive, and their presence definitely changes the dynamics of a room. I spend most of the day working alone from home, and San Fernando makes me feel like I have some company. I even find myself talking to him sometimes. He doesn’t seem to mind my off-key singing.

San Fernando, I quickly learned, liked to be watered more frequently than what I read online. Every Sunday, Allyn would put him in the shower and spray him liberally, leaving him in there overnight to soak. But once a week was not enough for our little fern. I began to spray him with our mister bottle every three days, and then every other day, and he seemed happiest of all when I remembered to spray him every day.

But, dear reader, I must admit: I did not always remember.

San Fernando is such a patient companion. He never complains. He never interrupts my day to ask for anything. He simply sits there in his pot, filtering our air, his green tendrils providing life and color in our home.

I have written before about how easy it is to take things for granted. Sometimes, San Fernando blends into the background and I forget about him. The days whirl by and while I could swear I watered him yesterday, in reality it was three days ago.

The weather has also been getting warmer, hot and dry, which means San Fernando needs more water than ever. Last week, I looked over at him and noticed that some of his leaves were turning brown and shriveled. He looked quite sad. “San Fernando!” I exclaimed. “Poor little guy!” I ran over, filled the little spray bottle, and sprayed him all over until he was dripping.

Now, I am trying to nurse San Fernando back to good health. I am spraying him morning and evening, and it makes my heart happy to see new little green tendrils sprouting up from his heart. San Fernando just needed some TLC to get back to a healthy place. But it will take some time to help him get there. It won’t happen overnight. Because I neglected San Fernando, and didn’t spray him a little bit every day, now it requires much more effort to get him back on track. {I’m sorry, San Fernando. I promise to be a better plant mother from now on!}

This is not only the case with Boston ferns. It is true for humans, as well. This ordeal with San Fernando made me think about the parallels with our own self-care.

Has this ever happened to you? You are super busy at work, or school, or with a new project, or a big volunteer event. In order to get everything done, you begin “burning the candle at both ends”—staying up late, getting up early. You’re exhausted, so you down a lot of caffeine each day—lots of coffee, or soda, perhaps even those “energy drinks.” You forget to eat enough, or you grab fast food instead of nourishing yourself with whole, healthful foods. There is no time at all for the gym. No time to relax with a good book, unwind with a bit of yoga, or daydream in the bath. No time to chat with your friends on the phone or write in your journal or practice gratitude. You are simply too busy!

You tell yourself that it is only for a little while and then you will get back on track. But “busyness” has a way of stretching out and stretching out, lasting and lasting. There is always something else that comes up—some new request, some extra task or obligation. Before too long, you end up like San Fernando: your leaves are shriveled and brown and droopy. Maybe you get sick. Maybe you “crash” during a meeting. Maybe you lash out, or break down, or feel entirely overwhelmed.

My dad likes to say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I think this also applies: “An ounce of self-care is worth a pound of wellness.” If you take care of yourself, carving out time for self-care even during the busy times, then you will be able to withstand even the most stressful of days. If I had been more vigilant in spraying San Fernando with water every day, then he would have been able to go a few days without water and his leaves would not have shriveled up. It was only because I had neglected him routinely that he began to wither.

So now, I am committing to diligently watering San Fernando every single day, and I am committing to “watering” my own soil and roots every day with small acts of self-care. I hope you will join me in this practice!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • Have you ever neglected a house plant or outdoor garden?
  • When was the last time you felt really busy or overwhelmed? What did you do to get out of that mindset?
  • Write a list of acts of self-care that make you feel nourished and rested.

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!

dinner parties + new apartments

When Allyn and I decided to move into together, it was an exciting time in our lives. It was also a stressful time because of apartment-hunting. Housing in the Bay Area is notoriously expensive, and trying to find a nice apartment in a safe neighborhood that was also within our price range, while also fairly convenient for our varied work commutes, was a challenge. Housing is also very high in demand, so there was the sense that if you liked a place but weren’t sure about it, and waffled on your decision for too long, someone else would come along and snatch it up before you even turned in your application.

After a few weekends of open-houses and apartment-hunting, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. I remember thinking, “All I want is a kitchen and a bathroom and a living room and a bedroom, and I’m sold.” I felt myself buying into that mentality of scarcity, of panic, of not-enough-to-go-around. Fortunately, Allyn was by my side, level-headed as always, bringing me back to a place of abundance. Logically, I knew that we would not be apartment-hunting forever. I knew that eventually we would find a place that was the right fit for us. But I daydreamed of baking muffins in a kitchen of my own, and filling the bookshelves with our shared book collection, and eating dinner together every night at our own dining table. I would look around at couples who lived together and think, “Do you realize how lucky you are? I can’t wait to be like you!”

It wasn’t too long before we did find an apartment we loved, and we turned in our application and signed the lease and before I knew it, it was moving day and then we were unpacking and running to Target for various items we hadn’t realized we needed until we needed them, like a plunger and oven mitts and surge protectors. Life spun onward. Soon, having dinner together every night became routine. Our bookshelf became crammed with books and mementos of our shared life together. I baked muffins in our kitchen feeling grumbly about all the dishes I had to wash, rather than feeling awash with gratitude to have my own kitchen that I had dreamed about.

{our apartment in the early days}

The other day, I arrived home from visiting my brother in NYC. It was late: past midnight, and I was still on east-coast time. I unlocked the door and stumbled in with my suitcase, flicking on the light. Home. I was home. Instead of looking around our apartment and seeing various chores I needed to do—vacuum the carpet and put away those dishes and mail those packages and and and… this time, I just saw the messy, comforting jumble of everyday life. My everyday life, and Allyn’s everyday life. Intertwined.

And I remembered all the hours I had spent, before we had this apartment, dreaming of it. How I had yearned for it and hoped for it and felt like it would never come. And then it did come, and in the daily hustle and bustle I don’t appreciate it as much as I should. Because the reality is more complicated and messy than it was in my daydreams, and because I’m already looking onward to the next thing on the horizon. There is something else that I am yearning for and hoping for now. It’s so easy to forget all the things I do have, all the landmarks I have reached, that I was once gazing longingly at from the opposite shore.

Like, I remember being a middle-schooler reading Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, dreaming what seemed like an impossible dream of one day publishing a story of my own in Chicken Soup. These days, I publish stories in Chicken Soup frequently, and I forget to feel as excited as my middle-school self would want me to feel. She would celebrate every single acceptance.

I remember when being accepted to college was my Ultimate Dream; then being accepted to an MFA program was my Ultimate Dream; then signing with a literary agent was my Ultimate Dream. Now, my Ultimate Dream is publishing a novel. I try to remind myself to have patience and faith—just as I would remind my past selves of this, as I applied to college and grad school and queried literary agents. Don’t be so worried, I would go back and tell myself. It’s going to happen. And after it happens, it won’t even be something you think about all the time, it will just be another part of you, and you will have moved on to new dreams and goals. 

I think this is a beautiful part of life: how it is ever-changing, never static. We should keep growing and striving and dreaming throughout our lives. But I think it is also important to look back at how far we have come. To appreciate what we have, that once seemed so impossible. To give ourselves perspective and remind ourselves to be so thrillingly grateful.

In my wedding vows to Allyn, I told him how I spent a long time searching for him, and how I remember those lonely years vividly. Back then, I promised myself that when I finally did meet the man I was meant to be with, I would savor and appreciate him every day, and never take him for granted. These are hard vows to live up to, because life tilts into the familiar, and the familiar can so easily fade into the background… but every day, when I look at Allyn, I make a point to remind myself, just briefly, of what it was like when I was searching for him everywhere. When I worried that I would never find him. And this remembering makes me feel a strong rush of gratitude and joy for him, like falling in love all over again. How lucky I am, that I get to reach across the dinner table and squeeze his hand. Remembering where I’ve been makes the everyday now glitter with a touch of the miraculous.

A couple weekends ago, Allyn and I hosted our first real dinner party. We had entertained guests before, but our apartment is so small that we are limited to only two or three people at a time. Our chance for a bigger dinner party came when his mom went out of town, and we were cat-sitting in her beautiful home with a full dining table that seated eight. So, we invited three of our couple friends over for dinner. Two of them have children, who came along too. It was a full table!

In the days leading up to the event, I felt excited and nervous—planning the menu, shopping for groceries, then going back to the store at the last minute to pick up more food, worried we wouldn’t have enough. {Perhaps that is my grandma in me. Because we did. We had more than enough, and plenty of leftovers.} I made enchiladas, my mom’s recipe that has become one of my favorites. As I was chopping the onion and bell pepper and stirring the ground turkey and rolling up the tortillas, I thought about when I was in college. Back then, I would occasionally make enchiladas for my roommates and our other friends, everyone who wanted to stop by, an apartment full of people crammed on the couch and sprawled out on the floor, drinking homemade margaritas and watching the game. In college, we’d serve the enchiladas on our multicolored cheap plastic plates and eat them using our bent silverware with the plastic handles. My roommates and I would drool over Crate and Barrel, dreaming of the future when we’d have fancier dishes and would feel like real grown-ups.

Thankfully I did know, back then, that there was beauty in where we were. I loved that chapter of our lives as we lived it. I knew those days were fleeting. I’m so glad I savored them. Although, I never would have guessed that a future me, with beautiful dishes from Anthropologie and linen napkins in napkin rings, would still not quite feel like a grown-up. I never would have guessed that a part of me would feel a little nostalgic for those cheap plastic plates and bent silverware, as I stood in the middle of the gorgeous kitchen in my mother-in-law’s house, serving enchiladas onto china plates for our friends at our first real dinner party.

The dinner party was lively and chaotic and wonderful. We put tarps down so the kiddos wouldn’t make a mess on the carpet, and strapped their booster seats to the chairs so they could join us right at the table. We ate and laughed and talked and reminisced. The kids ate a gazillion slices of watermelon, juice dribbling down their chins. We celebrated a birthday, blew out the candles, and their adorable smiling faces were soon covered with chocolate frosting. It was perfect.

Later that night, after everyone had left and Allyn and I were stretched out, exhausted, on the couch, I thought about how there will likely—hopefully—be a time in our lives in the not-too-distant future when toddlers running around the house will be an everyday occurrence; a time in our lives when we will be able to fit more than four people at our very own dinner table; a time in our lives when hosting a dinner party will perhaps not be such an extraordinary event.

But I hope, when that time comes, that I can remember the magic of this dinner party, and how special it felt to host a meal that brought our friends together, and how joyful it was to hear toddler giggles at the table.

I hope I can always remember how precious this moment in time is, even as I look ahead to the bright and beautiful future.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a document on your computer and do some free-writing, using these questions to get you going:

  • What is a goal or dream you used to have, that you accomplished and now seems normal? What advice might you give a previous version of yourself?
  • What is a goal or dream you are currently striving or wishing for? What advice might a future version of yourself give you now?
  • Write about the last time you moved to a new house or apartment.
  • Write about the last time you hosted a gathering or dinner party.

 

how small acts of nourishment make a huge difference

Tuesdays used to be my least favorite day of the week. They are my long days. On Tuesday, I have back-to-back {to-back-to-back} tutoring sessions with students. I leave the apartment at 2pm and don’t get home until after 10pm. Teaching individual writing sessions is an intensive process, which is a great thing—it’s why they are so effective! Thanks to the one-on-one guidance I am able to give my students, they improve so much, so quickly—in skill level as well as confidence. Their progress truly amazes me.

However, this intensity can also make teaching these sessions draining. I am an actress and my stage is the dining room table, seated across from a child or teenager armed with a pencil and a sheet of lined paper. Like an actress summoning every ounce of energy for each performance, I must bring “my all” to each class. Because not only is every student different—each and every session is different. Sometimes the students are wound up from a crazy day at school or a sugar-filled after-school snack. Sometimes they are grumpy from an argument with a friend at recess; other times they are down about a bad test grade they received back in class that day. If I’m not on my “A” game, our lesson will inevitably falter, the student descending into writer’s block or unfocused distraction. I need to read my students’ moods, and coax or prod them accordingly, in order to facilitate the greatest learning for each and every session we have together.

Thankfully, I do have a little break in the middle of my long day, from about 5:30-7pm. I used to fritter away this time with more “busywork” like email and housekeeping tasks. I would drive to a Peet’s coffeeshop, grab a muffin or scone as a snack to take the edge off my hunger, and open my tablet to my email inbox. Then I would spend that hour and a half attempting to whittle down my always-overflowing inbox.

Not surprisingly, when my break ended and it was time to head out for the remainder of my sessions with students, I would usually feel even more tired than I had been before my break began. It was getting late. I was hungry. I was exhausted. I would sometimes even feel a little resentful of my students, wishing that I could just head home instead. I would try to summon my best self for those evening sessions, but even though they went well, I would feel like I was using every ounce of my energy to stay positive and focused.

Some people dread Mondays. I’ve always told myself that I don’t want to dread any day of the week, because that means you are dreading 1/7th of your life. I love the weekend, but I’ve never really had a problem with Mondays. {Plus right now, during this season of my life, my favorite yoga class is on Monday mornings!} But… I was starting to kind of dread Tuesdays. I felt like I had to gear up for Tuesday each week. It was this mountain in the middle of my week that I had to climb. I didn’t like the feeling, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. I love my students, and they have very busy schedules. {Seriously—they are like mini CEOs!} These were the time blocks that worked for their schedules, and I didn’t want to cancel my lessons with them. I told myself to just “suck it up” and deal with it.

My first internal shift happened thanks to, of all things, a yeast infection. My doctor advised me to avoid sugar as much as possible while my body was healing, because yeast feeds off sugar. So, that week, instead of settling for my usual sugar-laden muffin at Peet’s, I took 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon before I left to chop up some of my favorite veggies: snap peas, bell pepper, cucumber. I took these along with me in a Tupperware, and snacked on them as I checked my email during my break.

I noticed I felt better that evening. I had more energy and I didn’t feel hungry. It felt more like I’d had a real meal—an actual dinner, a salad just without the lettuce.

So, the next week, I packed myself some veggies again. I added an apple and some nuts for good measure. It became a new part of my Tuesday routine.

My next internal shift came with the Daylight Savings Time shift. Suddenly, it remained light out later. The weather began to warm up. Springtime was on the horizon. I was itching to spend more time outside, rather than cooped up indoors all day. Driving to Peets one Tuesday, I noticed a huge grassy sports park on my route. A thought struck: I want to go for a walk there.

So that’s exactly what I did. I pulled into the sports park. I took a walk. I breathed in the fresh air. I waved hello to other walkers and joggers. I felt… peaceful. Like I was able to press “pause” on my busy day and just be here in my body for a little while. After half an hour, I drove the rest of the way to Peet’s, where I ate my veggies and checked email. When it was time for me to head out for the rest of my student sessions, I felt even more refreshed than usual.

{spring tree from my Tuesday walk at the park}

So the next week, I took another walk. This time, I called my brother as I was walking. He’s on New York time, so I usually wasn’t able to chat with him on Tuesdays because I got home so late and our schedules were “out of sync.” It was so nice to check in and hear his voice.

Just like that, walking for 30 minutes became another part of my Tuesday break time routine. I began to look forward to it. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or chat with someone on the phone. Other times I walk in silence, listening to my own thoughts. I noticed that I began to get a lot of ideas during this time.

My final internal shift came about a month ago, when I sat down at Peet’s after my walk, and my head was filled with an idea for a blog post. So, instead of spending 45 minutes mindlessly checking my email, I didn’t even connect to the free Wi-fi. I opened a blank Word document and began typing.

That night, when I went to my sessions with students, I felt downright cheerful. I felt energized. After all, I always extolled the importance of writing and expressing themselves. Now I was practicing what I preached. I had just written something that mattered to me, and I was filled with the power that comes with putting your complicated jumble of thoughts down in steady, streamlined words.

Soon, I found myself looking forward to Tuesdays. That’s right—what used to be a day I dreaded is now a day I genuinely enjoy.

The crazy thing is, none of my responsibilities on this day have changed. I am still gone from 2pm to 10pm. I still have back-to-back intense sessions with students that can be emotionally and mentally draining. I still need to give my all up there “onstage.”

But, even with the challenges, I find my work fulfilling. I lost sight of that a little bit when I was so exhausted before.

The difference is that now, I’ve given myself some “me” time in the midst of my busy day. I nourish myself with self-care—literally with healthy food, physically with fresh air and exercise, and emotionally with connection, inspiration, and creative time. And, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.”

 

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:

  • Where can you find pockets of time for yourself in the midst of busy-ness?
  • What small changes can you make to your least favorite day, to turn it into a better day? {Maybe even, dare I say, your favorite day of the week?}
  • In what areas of your life are you settling, where you could be thriving?
  • What makes you feel nourished and rested?

paint fumes + a haircut

The other day around lunchtime, I wandered into the kitchen to wrangle together something to eat, and I noticed a funny smell. I couldn’t quite place it. It wasn’t a food-related smell. It was something more… chemical.

“Allyn?” I called. “Does something smell weird to you?”

He came into the kitchen and confirmed that, yes, our kitchen reeked. He also nailed the smell I was having trouble pinning down.

“It’s paint fumes,” he said. “They must be painting the apartment downstairs.”

Soon, the strong smell had wafted into our living room and bedroom. There was no escaping the paint fumes. I’ve always been sensitive to smell, and I started to get a headache. It was cold out, but we opened the windows and turned on the fan to blow in fresh air. It helped some. Eventually, either the smell dissipated or our noses became acclimated to it. My headache receded.

The next day, Allyn and I came home to our apartment after a long afternoon of running errands, and when we opened the door and stepped inside, we wrinkled our noses. The paint fumes were back!

“Do you think they’re painting again today?” I asked.

Allyn shook his head. “It doesn’t smell as strong as it did yesterday. It’s probably just lingering, and we noticed it more coming in from outside.”

Again, we opened the windows and turned on the fan. Eventually, the smell went away.

This pattern continued for another few days, until the paint fumes finally disappeared. It was such a glorious relief to feel like I could breathe again.

A few afternoons later, I laced on my shoes and walked a few blocks downtown to a local hair salon. I’d never been there before and I was a bit nervous, but I told myself it was no big deal. Just a little trim. I didn’t want anything drastic—just to get rid of my split ends. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference in my appearance, but I figured it was time. My last haircut had been more than a year prior, when I cut off eight inches of my hair to donate in honor of Céline. That was the shortest I could ever remember cutting my hair, and since then I’d been growing my hair out. Now it was long again. Not just long–straggly. Limp. Flat.

I told the stylist what I wanted, and she quickly began to work her magic. She trimmed off my split ends and added some layers. Snip snip snip. Snip snip. Soon, she was blow-drying my hair and turning me to face the mirror. And I couldn’t believe it.

What a difference!

She had only cut off a couple inches. I looked at the scraps of hair littering the floor, and it really wasn’t that much. Yet, I looked so different. Fresher. Lighter. More vibrant.

Walking home, I felt free and energized. Like I’d had a total makeover, when in reality the only thing different about me was my hair and it was not that much different at all. {Real talk: Allyn likely would not have even noticed my haircut if I had not told him about it.} It had only been 45 minutes since I left my apartment, yet in my mind it felt like a Before/After transformation.

Such a little thing. And it had such a big impact on how I felt. A blow-out and some fresh layers, and I was a woman ready to take on the world!

On the surface, these may seem like two small things in an ordinary week. Paint fumes and a haircut. What’s the big deal?

I think they are symbols for other things—important things—in our lives.

The paint fumes are the pesky, lingering thoughts that are taking up space in your brain and are not serving you at all. You know what I mean. The toxic thoughts. The ones that say, You’re not good enough. You’re never going to accomplish that. You might as well just give up. Who do you think you are? And all of the other mean things we say to ourselves. So many of us talk to ourselves in words that we would be horrified to hear said to someone else.

What paint fumes are stinking up your mind? What paint fumes are giving you a headache?

It’s time to open the windows. It’s time to turn on the fan. It’s time to air things out and drink in the fresh cold breeze.

You might have to air out those paint fumes many times. As with our apartment, they did not disappear overnight. We had to air things out again and again and again, until finally the smell dissipated completely.

Air out your negative thoughts. Keep noticing when you are hard on yourself or get down on yourself. Keep opening windows and letting new, positive thoughts in. I promise—eventually, it will make a huge difference. You have no idea how lovely it will be without those paint fumes wearing you down.

My haircut was a symbol of a small act of self-care that can create huge ripples of goodness in how you feel. About yourself, about your relationships, about your life. It was just 45 minutes. It was not a big deal or a drastic change. But it made me feel so much better to let go of those straggly split ends. I felt so much lighter and freer and my hair is so much more buoyant without the weight of those extra couple inches dragging it down.

What “split ends” can you let go of in your life? What is dragging you down? What is making you feel tired or bored or listless? When you look over your calendar for the week or your schedule for the day, is there anything that you dread? If so, is there a way you can get rid of that thing? Can you say no? Can you delegate to someone else?

What if you replaced those split ends with buoyancy and energy? What is a small act of self-care you can take today that will make you feel nourished and restored? Self-care is an investment that pays huge dividends. It might be taking a walk, taking a bath, taking a nap… or something else that you love to do. Even twenty or thirty minutes are enough to boost your spirits and create positive ripple effects in your mental outlook and self-esteem.

This week, my challenge to you is to identify your own “paint fumes” and “split ends.” Air it out. Get a haircut. Your body, mind + spirit will think you!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a document on your computer. Free-write about whatever these questions spark inside you.

  • What are the negative thoughts that drift in your mind? Write them down. This can help take away their power. Now, for each negative thought, write out a positive thought instead. What things do you like or love about yourself?
  • Write about something that is dragging you down in your life. What might it look like to cut this out of your life entirely? Write about how you would feel without this burden. If there isn’t a way to get away from it entirely, can you at least minimize it or delegate it?
  • What are some activities that make you feel rested, restored, energized or joyful? Make a list you can return to when you are craving a bit of self-care.

that time i shopped on black friday

I remember the first and only time I went shopping on Black Friday. It was my final year of grad school and I was spending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family in the Chicago suburbs. During the Thanksgiving meal, the topic of Black Friday came up. Before then, I never had any interest in shopping on Black Friday. In the past, after Thanksgiving dinner, my family and I would sink into the couch {momentarily ignoring the stacks of dirty dishes} and sigh that the last thing we could imagine wanting to do was wait in line to go shopping in a crowded superstore. Now, I listened to the people around me plan out the best routes and the best places and the best deals.

“Wanna go?” my boyfriend asked.

I didn’t want to go. Not at all. I wanted to change into my pajamas and curl up under a blanket with a good book. What did I need to shop for, anyway? What “doorbuster deals” did I need to take advantage of?

But I didn’t want to be a buzzkill. Everyone else was excited about Black Friday shopping. It was easier to go along with the current of consumption than to try to swim against it. Maybe it will be fun, I told myself. It will be a new experience that you can write about someday.

“Sure,” I said.

So, a couple hours before midnight, we caravanned to the nearest Walmart. The parking lot was jammed. The store was jammed. People were camped out in aisles, shopping carts claiming space. Everywhere, sale prices screamed at us in bold font under the bright florescent lights.

I couldn’t ignore an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. I knew in a deep visceral place that I did not want to be there. I did not want to be part of this avalanche of greed, of consumption, of more more more. It sounds extreme, maybe—I know it was just one day of shopping, after all—but I felt sick inside. I knew that I was going against my values. This wasn’t what I believed in. This wasn’t what mattered to me. Yet, there I was, wandering the aisles along with everyone else. There I was, waiting in the enormous snaking check-out line. There I was, choosing to spend hours shopping for things I didn’t actually need, during a time of year that was supposedly devoted to gratitude. I think I bought some cupcake liners and a book of short stories. My boyfriend bought a laptop, and his parents bought a big-screen TV to replace the slightly-smaller big-screen TV they already had. “It was such an amazing deal, we just couldn’t pass it up!” his mom exclaimed.

Looking back now, that Black Friday shopping escapade was in many ways a symbol of that period of my life. Gradually, I let myself get swept away from the person I always thought I was, until I didn’t recognize the choices I was making anymore. I tried to cover up my doubts about my relationship with an avalanche of stuff. I made plans with my boyfriend based around consumption—TV shows we wanted to watch; kitchen gadgets we wanted to buy; that expensive exercise bike we were saving up for—as if those plans would make us feel more solid. As if the answer to our problems could be found in a trip to the mall. As if carting more stuff home in plastic shopping bags would reinforce our shaky foundation, patch up our recurring arguments, and hide our incompatibilities.

The truth was, I felt empty inside. So I gave into the culture of consumption around me, as if that would fill me up. It was so much easier to slap a band-aid over the pain than to do the hard work of diagnosing its source. It was so much more comfortable to listen to the constant advertisements around me and believe that I would feel better if only I had that top-rated mascara, those pretty napkin rings, that perfectly organized closet with the matching labeled baskets.

Up to this point, I had never placed much value in material possessions, and I never would have said that love was shown by material things—and yet, in my relationship, that was exactly how it was shown. I remember my boyfriend buying me so many books for Christmas one year that I actually felt embarrassed by the display. {I still haven’t read all of them.} I remember our bookshelf crammed with DVDs that we’d only watched once. I remember wandering the aisles of Target, filled with a panicked craving, certain that there was something else I desperately needed to make my life okay. And I was right—there was a desperate need aching inside of me—but it wasn’t for anything I could buy at Target. It was the need for honesty and authenticity in my own life. It was the need to live out my values. It was the need to unapologetically be—or at least, strive to be—my best and truest self.

When we broke up, I immediately felt relief and release. And I immediately began lightening my load of possessions. I donated boxes full of books to the library. I took bags of clothes to Goodwill. I gave away kitchen appliances to anyone who wanted them. I cleaned out my kitchen cabinet, using up the canned food I’d already bought instead of buying more. Rather than wandering the aisles of Target, I began going for walks. When I think back on that period, I remember the joy I felt in creating space in my life. I didn’t feel that panicked emptiness inside me anymore. I didn’t need to prove anything or cover up anything. Even though I was heartbroken, I felt content, and whole, and enough. To put it simply: I recognized myself again.

Now, all of this is not to say that Black Friday is evil or that shopping makes you a bad person. Some people are passionate about the fashion industry. Some people find true joy through shopping and socializing in this way. But, I have never been that person. And if you feel like I used to feel — shopping for more to try to fill up an empty hole inside you or cover up emotions you don’t want to feel — I’d like to challenge you to hit the pause button. Take a deep breath. Climb out from underneath all of your stuff and take an honest look at your life. What is that little voice inside trying to tell you?

When I began listening to that little voice, instead of listening to the advertisements around me and the fear in my heart that said I wasn’t enough… everything changed. I began making choices with intention rather than letting myself get swept here and there by other people’s currents. I now find value in the person I am, not what I own, and my relationships are built on a solid foundation of shared conversations rather than a wobbly foundation of shared consumption. Sure, I still go shopping sometimes. Of course, I still buy things. But I know that the latest fashion trend piece isn’t going to make me more beautiful. A fancy new tablecloth isn’t going to make my meals any more nourishing. A new piece of furniture isn’t going to make me into more of a grown-up and color-coordinated bath towels do not mean that my life is more “together” than it was before. My life — like all lives — is perfectly imperfect. And that’s normal. That’s nature. After all, look around — plants and trees are not precisely symmetrical. A flower consumes what it needs to bloom, but it will die with too much water. I believe the messy mishmash patchwork quilt of genuine, authentic living is what makes this life so beautiful.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about whatever comes to mind when you think about these questions.

  • Have you ever gone shopping on Black Friday? If not, why not? If so, what was the experience like for you?
  • Write about a time you made a decision that felt at odds with your values or the person you thought you were.
  • Are there any areas of your life that you are trying to fill with material things? What might it be like to instead believe that you are enough and have enough?

a letter to my 16-year-old self

Dear 16-year-old Dallas,

Hi there. It’s me—well, you, from the future. Thirteen years in the future, to be exact. I just wanted to pop in and tell you that everything is going to be okay. I know you’re having a hard time right now. Two of your best friends have quite suddenly ditched you, and you’re feeling unmoored and wondering how everything could have unraveled so quickly. It wasn’t one big fight, but a lot of little things that drew the three of you apart—or, rather, that separated you from the two of them. I know that right now you feel confused and hurt and angry. School used to be filled with laughter and inside jokes, and now suddenly the social logistics of each day is a puzzle without an answer key. Where to sit at lunch? Who to talk to at cross-country practice? You’ve cried more over the loss of these two friends than you’ve ever cried over a boy. I know you are tempted to just turn your back and write them off forever. I know it’s hard to see this now, but listen to me: they’re not bad people. They do care about you, and your friendship with them was real. All those memories you shared together are not fake. It was good, until it wasn’t. High school is messy and confusing and full of changes, and the three of you are in different places, wanting different things. And that’s okay. It’s okay that you have no interest in going to parties and drinking—no matter if that means you aren’t “cool.” Even though this is painful, it is better for you to let go of your friendship with them now, rather than stick around and feel bad about yourself all the time, or turn into someone you don’t want to be.

Listen to me: in six years, you will go to the wedding of one of these friends, and all the angst and hurt you are writing about in your journal right now? It will all seem like a long time ago, I promise. It will seem like a novel you read about someone else. The other friend will get married around the same time you do {yes, you are in fact going to get married—I’ll get to that in a minute} and you will genuinely wish her well. You will wish both of these girls the utmost happiness.

I know you are feeling supremely uncool and unsure of yourself. Your self-confidence has taken a beating, and you feel so awkward all the time. But let me tell you something important, something true: you did nothing wrong and there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to be concerned about what the other kids at school think of you. {Besides, the other kids at school aren’t thinking bad things about you—that’s all in your head. The other kids, even the popular crowd, respect your straight-lacedness. Just wait and see what nice things they write in your senior yearbook.} Take a deep breath and lean into the parts of yourself that feel the most true and real and YOU. Those are the best parts of yourself. Those are the parts to cultivate, to nourish, to nurture. When you find sprouts of self-consciousness and comparison and shame? Yank those roots out of your soil. Don’t waste any time watering those weeds.

Want to know a secret? Want to know the silver lining to this painful period of time? When these two friends ditch you, it will open up your life for other friends to come in. You will become closer with people who love and accept you exactly as you are. Remember how close you and Erica were in middle school? Reach out to her again now. She is kind and steady and she truly cares about you. She is a lifelong friend. One day, she will be a bridesmaid in your wedding. Be grateful for her and soak up these everyday moments with her. Stay home from a school dance and have an old-fashioned sleepover with her instead. You never have much fun at those school dances, even though you try. You go because you feel like you’re supposed to go. But I’m giving you permission, right now, to stop doing things because of the opinions of other people. If you want to stay in on a Friday night and eat popcorn and watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights with Erica, do it. Do it with no regrets.

I want you to know that you are enough exactly as you are. Mom and Dad know what they are talking about. When they tell you that you are beautiful and kind and strong and worthy, when they tell you that you have no idea how loved you are, when they tell you that one day in the not-too-distant future you will indeed meet a boy who appreciates you for exactly the person you are—listen to them. They are right.

Sixteen-year-old Dallas, you don’t need to change anything about yourself. Your nose is not too big. Your hair is not frizzy. You are not—repeat after me—you are not the least bit overweight, and you never need to feel even the slightest twinge of guilt for eating two or three of Mom’s chocolate-chip cookies, still warm from the oven.  She makes the best cookies, doesn’t she? Thirteen years from now, her cookies will still be the best you’ve ever tasted.

And okay, I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it. You’ve probably skimmed the rest of this letter, eager to get to this part. The part about getting married one day. Right now, I know it feels like you’re never going to meet a boy who like-likes you, much less loves you. Right now, you haven’t even had your first kiss. All of your ideas about love are based on Sarah Dessen books, your weekly TV obsession The O.C., and your favorite rom-com Serendipity. Here’s what I want to tell you about love: it’s bigger and better, more complex and yet more simple, more consuming and yet more ordinary, than you imagine it to be. Love is going to break you apart and put you back together again, stronger and braver and more content in your own individual, lovely wholeness. Love is going to take you by surprise and take your breath away.

Right now you alternate between despair that you are never ever going to get your first kiss, and a desire to plan out every detail of your one-day, future relationship. But, dear one, love isn’t something you can map out. It’s not a short story you can revise and revise again. It’s not a physics problem you can solve. It will sweep into your heart without warning, announcing itself to you boldly, and even though you might feel a little bit scared or unready, you will not be able to ignore it. When love is right, it will continue to grow and grow inside of you, and you won’t have to make excuses for it, and you won’t have to twist yourself to fit into what doesn’t fit. The right love will become a part of you, like your breath, in and out, in and out, and like your breath it will give you life in little moments every single day, with you hardly even realizing it. Right now you think that love means grand gestures and passionate kissing in the rain, but real love is in the ordinary, everyday moments that connect you to another person. When you feel seen and understood and accepted and cared for, little by little, day by day. If you really want an example of the love that is waiting for you in the future, look at Mom and Dad. You will get married on their wedding anniversary, and they are the best blueprint out there for a beautiful, sturdy, lasting love.

To be honest, 16-year-old Dallas, your first kiss won’t come for another couple of years, and it isn’t going to be all that spectacular. But your first kiss with the guy who will become your
husband? Woah. It will be worth the wait, worth all the mess and tears and lonely nights and uncertainty it took to find him. Here’s what I can tell you about your husband: he is amazingly kind, and generous, and thoughtful, and compassionate. He makes you laugh every day, and he is a wonderful listener, and he supports you with all of his heart. He is so handsome, and he tells you that you are beautiful, and he loves every detail about you. {For the record, he thinks you have a great nose.} He is better than any of the loves you imagined for yourself before you met him. He is better than you could have dreamed.

I know, despite your heartbreak and pain, you do realize how fortunate you are, and you’re grateful for what you have right now. You’re grateful for your parents, and for Greg, and for Erica, and for your teachers and your Gramps and your books and your writing. Lean into that gratitude. Lean into those things that fill you up. Savor them. As Mr. Enfield, the drama teacher, will tell you next year before the curtain rises on the final production of the play you wrote {get excited—it’s going to be an awesome experience!}, life is ephemeral. It is always changing, and even those things that feel permanent about your life right now are fleeting. So soak it in, every day. Even the hard days. Be confident in the person you are now and the person you are becoming. Don’t get lost in self-doubt or worry. You have no idea how much you are going to grow, and stretch, and shine, and love, and explore, and how big and wide and incredible the world is. You have no idea of the wonders waiting in your future, in this life you are building. Trust in me, your 29-year-old-self. And trust in yourself, as you are here, now, at sixteen. Everything you need is already there, inside of you.

Love,
Your Future Self

p.s. Give Gar as many scratches and loves and doggy biscuits as you can. He’s a really great dog, isn’t he?

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to your sixteen-year-old self. What advice would you give?
  • Write a letter from your sixteen-year-old self to your self today. What would that previous version of yourself want you to remember?
  • Sign up for The Letter Project to write a letter to a real girl or woman who could use a little extra encouragement. Your words can make a real difference in someone’s life!

when is the train going to come?

When I was in college, I studied abroad in England for a semester, and the school calendar included a whole glorious month off for spring break. Two of my best friends and I took the opportunity to backpack around Europe together, bopping around from Portugal to Spain to France to Germany. We traveled mostly by train, which was awesome. As someone born and raised in California, my experience with train travel was extremely limited; in Los Angeles at that time, our public transportation system was pretty much just buses that never ran on time. {The L.A. metro system has been wonderfully expanded since then, and now in the Bay Area I often take the BART train.} But back then it was a marvelously new experience for me to travel by train, much less travel from country to country that way! I loved gazing out the window as the changing landscapes rolled by.

Mostly, the trains were very impressively on time. But there was one day in particular that sticks out in my mind. It was about mid-way through our trip, mid-way through the day. We were grungy and tired and hungry, and our train was delayed. We were told it would be at least a couple hours. So we left the station and explored the little village a bit. It was a Sunday and most of the stores were closed. We ended up buying snacks from a mini-mart shop and eating them back at the station. We sat there on the train platform, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We stood up. We paced around. We looked down the long, empty tracks.

Logically, I knew the train would eventually come. But emotionally? It felt, in that moment, like the train was never going to come.

 *

In the years since, I’ve come to think of waiting on that half-empty platform for that delayed-and-delayed-again train as a metaphor for life.

Yes, there are many things you can control. You can work hard. You can maintain a fierce curiosity about the world. You can consistently gain knowledge in your field. You can believe in yourself and in your abilities. You can set goals and take little steps, every day, to move forward towards your dreams.

But there is also a lot that you can’t control: luck, serendipity, chance. Timing and fate. The whimsies and opinions and subjectivities of other people.

You can buy your train ticket and stand on the platform, gazing down the track, ready and waiting. But you can’t control when the train is going to come.

More than fifteen years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I wrote a personal essay titled “The Role of a Lifetime.” It was about my second-grade teacher who cast me in the lead role of our class play, even though I was painfully shy. How her confidence in me sparked a self-confidence that I still carry to this day. Mostly, I wrote the piece as a tribute to a phenomenal teacher who truly went above and beyond for her students.

I was proud of that essay. I worked hard on it. I edited and rewrote it, asked for feedback and rewrote it again. I submitted it to a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology about teachers. But it was rejected.

A couple years later, I saw a call for submissions for another Chicken Soup anthology about teachers. Excited, I submitted the essay again. Again, it was not chosen for publication.

I was disappointed. I read the essay again with fresh eyes. I still liked it. I was still proud of it.

Over the years, I submitted that essay many other times to many other publication opportunities and contests. In return, I received nothing but rejection letters.

Last year—more than fifteen years after I wrote the essay—I saw a call for submissions for the upcoming Chicken Soup anthology Inspiration for Teachers. “What do you have to lose?” I thought. And I submitted my essay again.

Guess what? This time, after all this time, my essay was accepted. “The Role of a Lifetime” is going to be published later this year. My story about an amazing teacher is going to be shared. This particular train finally pulled into the station. I’m so glad I didn’t give up and leave the platform too soon.

*

Lately I’ve been listening to the most recent Blind Pilot album on repeat. One of my favorite songs is called “Don’t Doubt” and here are my favorite lyrics:

Don’t you doubt
Everybody’s seen some winter
Don’t you just take the dark way out

I think “the dark way out” means making excuses for yourself. Stacking up your reasons to quit and building those reasons into a prison around yourself. Letting yourself think that just because you sometimes doubt yourself, it means that you should give into those doubts. No. It just means that you’re human and you’re not an emotionless robot. But strength equals fighting against your moments of doubt with hope and grit and persistence. Remember — everybody’s seen some winter.

For the past three weeks, my sweetheart has been waiting on a phone call. At first, he felt very confident that the call was going to come. But as the days slipped by, he grew less and less certain. Eventually, he began using humor to deal with the situation—every day, he would joke with me about the various reasons he might not have received the phone call yet. Throughout the day, we would pretend to cheer on this person, as if picking up the phone was a physical task that required Herculean effort. I could tell that Allyn was doing all he could to fight off his doubts and to keep his faith in the potential of the situation.

And then, quite suddenly, the phone call did come. And it was exactly the outcome he had been waiting for, hoping for, and working towards for a very long time.

I know this might sound cliched, but it’s true—the success meant more to him because of the winding, difficult path it took to get there. The questions and doubts make the answers, when they finally come, that much richer.

I love this blog post Alex Franzen wrote about making excuses and making progress. She writes: “You can make excuses or you can make yourself proud. You can make excuses or you can make progress. You can make excuses or you can make art. Every day, it’s your choice.”

*

So what do you do? What do I do? What can any of us do?

You hold onto that patience and you nurture that faith inside of you. You keep working hard. You keep taking little daily steps towards your goals. You keep learning. You keep believing in yourself and believing in that train. Stare off down those tracks. Because it’s coming. It’s coming, and you want to be ready when it does.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • What is a doubt that you are currently holding in your heart? What would it feel like to let this doubt go?
  • Write about a time when you felt like “the train was never going to come.” What ended up happening? Looking back, what would you tell yourself in that situation?
  • What is an excuse you are making to yourself right now? How can you move past that excuse and take the first action step towards something you desire?

fred

One of my fondest friendship memories is from one of the hardest periods of my life. It was my final semester of grad school and I had broken up with my fiancé two weeks before. I was waiting outside the public library near campus, feeling alone and numb, watching for a familiar red car. Suddenly, there it was, turning the corner and pulling up to the curb. The woman driving was my beautiful friend Holly, with her dark curly hair and tan skin and colorful sunglasses. She smiled and waved, reaching over to open the passenger door. I grabbed my backpack and slid into the car. I couldn’t quite believe she was here, my dear sweet friend who I think of as my sister. She hugged me close and my numbness dissolved into hiccupy sobs.

“Oh, baby girl,” she said. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

“I’m just so happy to see you,” I choked out. Which was the truth. Yes, I was crying with sadness, but mostly I was crying with gratitude and relief that Holly had driven all the way from Nashville to Indiana to spend the weekend with me. “I’m so happy you’re here.”

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” she replied.

We drove to the apartment I was subletting until graduation. {I had moved out of the apartment I’d shared with my ex.} Holly set down her duffel bag and, without a word, we flung ourselves across my bed, lying on our backs and gazing up at the cottage-cheese ceiling. Holly and I lived together in college, and whenever we see each other it feels like we are living together again. She knows what brand of crackers and yogurt and cereal I buy at the grocery store; we use the same type of hair products; we both listen to Taylor Swift when we get ready in the morning. When other people visit, I often feel like I should plan out an itinerary of Fun Things To Do so they won’t get bored, but visits with Holly tend to include everyday activities like errands and coffeeshop work sessions and doing each other’s dishes. With Holly, it is not uncommon for us to put on a movie, pause it to talk about something, and never finish watching the movie because we’re still talking two hours later. Her friendship is like a comfortable pair of well-worn jeans that I can slip into and be exactly myself.

“Someone wants to say hi,” Holly said, rummaging in her duffel bag. She pulled out a small stuffed animal, a monkey with a well-loved fuzzy body and a wise stitched smile.

“Fred!” I exclaimed, hugging him to my chest. Back in college, Holly’s mom sent her Fred in a care package. Ever since then, Fred has been lent out to me in emergency situations, like when I broke up with my college boyfriend and wanted something to hold as I tried to fall asleep. After college graduation, whenever Holly and I visited each other, Fred was a part of our visits: Holly would bring him on trips, and when I visited her I would fall asleep holding his soft squishable body. For my birthday card one year, Holly took a picture of Fred wearing a birthday hat.

I smiled at Holly. “I can’t believe you brought him!”

“He insisted,” Holly said. “You’re his girl.”

{Fred and me circa blurry cell phone camera, 2013}

It was amazing how happy and comforted I felt holding Fred in my lap. He made me feel connected to earlier versions of myself. I thought of my college self, devastated over the breakup with my college boyfriend. I thought of all the other heartbreaks I’d been through along the way: the dates that never called again, the budding relationships that fizzled out, the guys who wanted too much too fast, the guys I liked but didn’t love. With every heartbreak, I always held out hope that it would be worth it in the long run; that the temporary pain and disappointment were actually stepping stones leading to the eventual joy and fulfillment of finding the person who was right for me. I realized that I owed it not just to my current self, but also to my past selves to keep looking, to keep hoping. Never to settle.

“One day,” Holly said, as if reading my thoughts, “Aunt Holly is going to tell your kids about how their mom was engaged once before she met their dad, and it’s going to be this mysterious tidbit about their mom’s life before she became their mom. And I’m going to tell them how brave their mom was for listening to her gut and her heart, and how it’s so good she did because then she met their dad.”

I squeezed her hand. “You really think so? I’m going to meet him one day?”

“I know so,” Holly said. “And you’re going to be so happy, and you’re going to have absolutely zero doubts, and you’re going to call me up and say, ‘Oh Holly, THIS is what it’s supposed to feel like!’ ” {Side note: When Allyn and I got engaged, I called Holly and that is exactly what I said.}

Over the years, Holly and I have often joked that we live “parallel lives” — it seems that things tend to happen to us simultaneously, whether big things like a new job or small things like a bad haircut. The same week I broke up with my fiancé, she ended things with her boyfriend at the time. We were both in deep pain, but there was also joy buried in there too because at least in the midst of such pain we got to be together. We spent the entire weekend talking and crying and processing and laughing and speculating and crying some more. We went out for dinner and ciders at an Irish pub. We went to the movies. We went to the grocery store because Holly wanted to make sure I had enough food, that I was eating enough. We went to the mall and each found perfect dresses: me, a white lace dress to wear to my thesis reading; Holly, a flouncy gold dress to wear to her school’s formal dance.

Then, all too soon, it was Sunday. Time for Holly to hit the road back to Nashville. We always do goodbyes quickly to keep from crying too much. Holly hoisted her duffel bag onto her shoulder… but she left Fred sitting on my pillow.

“Don’t forget Fred!” I said, grabbing him for her.

“I want you to keep him,” Holly said. “Just for these next few weeks, until I come back for your thesis reading.”

“Are you sure?” It was all I could say at the moment. I felt overwhelmed.

“Yep,” Holly said. “Fred wants to be here with you right now. I wish I could stay with you, but since I can’t, he is staying in my place.”

“Are you sure you’ll be able to come back for my thesis reading? It’s so much driving — I didn’t realize you were coming both weekends — I thought you were just coming this weekend instead —”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Holly said, pulling me in for a hug. I buried my face into her curly hair and let myself cry a little, wondering how it was possible that my heart could feel so broken and yet also so full.

{Holly and me at my thesis reading}

The other day, one of my students was writing a piece about a beloved stuffed animal they had received as a baby, and it made me think about Fred. About how, sometimes, an object can add up to more than its individual parts. Because Fred is not just stuffing and fabric and thread. He is more than that. He is imbued with the memories of my friendship with Holly.

His name has always suited him. He just seems like a Fred. Maybe because — as it struck me the other day — if you take FRED and add IN all the memories and laughter and tears and time you spend together, it adds up to FRIEND. FRED + IN = FRIEND.

When I think of Fred, I think of all the joys Holly and I have celebrated together, and also all the storms we have supported each other through. All the ways that Holly has been there for me and all the ways she has made me feel understood and loved. All of our meandering and silly and heartfelt conversations that Fred has been privy to. Fred, like Holly — and like all beloved stuffed animals and beloved friends — is an outstanding listener. He is patient, and he never judges. He is soft and warm, but he is also tough and durable: made to last. If I were to pick a symbol of true friendship, it wouldn’t be joined hands or friendship bracelets or hearts drawn in the sand. It would be a well-worn, well-loved, stuffed animal monkey with a wise stitched smile named Fred.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” without any self-editing or judgment. Just see what flows out of you. Feel free to use one or more of the following questions as inspiration.

  • Write about a time that a friend was there for you when you needed them the most.
  • Do you have any memories that hold both sadness and joy? Write about them.
  • Describe a beloved stuffed animal and the memories and values they hold for you.
  • What is most important to you in a friend?

fun-filled “staycation” weekend

My brother found a cheap flight from NYC to the Bay Area and came to visit us for a long weekend! He was our first houseguest, and we loved sharing our little apartment with him. I went grocery shopping on Friday evening to stock up on favorite items for our houseguest and Allyn was very thorough about checking the comfort of the air mattress.

My brother said that the timing of the trip could not have been more perfect for him because last week incredibly busy, both at work and in his personal life — he is moving to a new apartment, AND his workplace moved to a new office, AND he had a big work event this past Friday. He said it was really nice to fly out to California and relax for a couple days! I told him that it felt like a vacation for us to have him here — a “staycation,” if you will. Allyn and I had so much fun showing him around our town and taking him to our favorite places. Allyn joked that we’ll need to wrack our brains to come up with things to do next time he visits, because we did everything there is to do in our little town!

Saturday

Saturday morning we slept in a bit and I made smoothies and pancakes for breakfast. Then we headed over to the Lake Chabot recreational park down the street and went for a walk around the lake. We also showed Greg the picnic area we reserved for my 30th birthday party in a few months! Allyn is super on top of party planning, which is good, because apparently picnic spots get booked up six months in advance. We were lucky to nab one for the first weekend in June.

After 45 minutes or so, we headed back home and got all cleaned up to head over to a “gender reveal” party for dear friends of ours who are expecting a baby in August. We could not be more excited for them — they’re going to be such great parents! Greg met them during our wedding festivities and actually got together with them in the fall when they were out visiting NYC, so he has become friends with them too. The timing worked out perfectly that he was in town to come along to their party! It was my first time attending a gender reveal party and the concept was so much fun. They asked guests to wear either blue or pink to the party, depending on what gender you thought the baby was going to be. Then, towards the end of the party, the parents-to-be cut open a cake to reveal either blue or pink. We all wore blue, even though Allyn thought it was going to be a girl {he just didn’t have anything pink to wear.} For some reason, I had this overwhelming feeling that they were having a boy. I felt pretty dang confident. And I was right! It’s exciting to imagine them welcoming a baby boy in just a few months.

The party was a blast — lots of Allyn’s friends from high school were there. I love these people but we don’t get to see them as often as we would like, due to everyone’s busy schedules. In fact, we hadn’t seen most of the gang since our wedding six months ago! It was great to chat and catch up with everyone over delicious “soul food”: fried chicken, black-eyed peas and rice, mac and cheese, cornbread, greens. There was enough food and cake to feed an army, and the hosts insisted that all the guests take home leftovers. We left the party around 5:30 and, while we had originally planned on taking Greg to a local Thai restaurant that night for dinner, none of us were feeling like eating again anytime soon. Sleepiness hit, along with a rainstorm, and nothing sounded better than changing into pajamas and cozying up on the couch to watch a movie. So that is exactly what we did! We picked up the movie “Arrival” from Redbox on the way home, which we had all been wanting to see. I was worried the movie might be a bit too scary for me {I am such a horror movie wimp} but it wasn’t scary at all, just suspenseful. The story was told in an interesting way that kept you guessing, all the way up to the enigmatic ending. It was definitely a good movie to watch with other people, so you can all discuss it afterwards.

Sunday

Early in the morning I had a couple student writing appointments scheduled, so after a shower and a quick breakfast of two defrosted muffins from the freezer, I slipped out while the boys were still sleeping. When I returned home a couple hours later, Allyn was making breakfast and Greg had just returned from a run. I joined them for breakfast #2, and soon we all headed out the door for an afternoon of fun!

Our first stop was the local bowling alley where we made it just in time to take advantage of their “before noon” weekend discount. When bowling, my goal is always to break 100. I got the closest I could come without actually meeting my goal: 99! I bowled more 9’s that game than I ever have in my life. Allyn and Greg both broke 100, Greg edging out Allyn with a spare in the final frame to win the game, 114 to 108. It was a close match! The bowling alley was hoppin’ — lots of families and little kids with bumper lanes — and it was fun to be part of the festive atmosphere.

After bowling we walked a few minutes to this cool shop called Aran’s Art Studio that Allyn and I had passed by many times and had always wanted to check out. In addition to teaching classes and hosting birthday parties, they also have a large selection of pottery that you can drop in anytime and select to paint with your own designs. When you’re done, you leave the pottery and they glaze and fire it, then call you to come pick it up when it’s ready {usually within a week, according to the helpful receptionist.} It sounded like fun, so we each chose a piece to paint. I used to love painting when I was a girl, and I’d forgotten how soothing it can be. About an hour later, we left the painting studio feeling relaxed and also energized by our creations. I can’t wait to see what they look like glazed and fired! Greg sweetly picked out a vase he painted for me, so I get to keep his piece, too!

We had just enough time to squeeze in lunch at one of our favorite local restaurants, Don Jose’s, before I had to head off to teach my weekly Creative Writing class. While I was gone, the boys went to the movie theater down the street to see the movie “Logan” {which I was grateful for because I really did not want to see it — too violent for my taste!} They really liked it but confirmed that yes, it was much too gory for me. It made it easier for me to be away knowing that they were seeing a movie I definitely did not want to see!

When I arrived home from teaching around 7pm, Allyn and Greg were putting the finishing touches on a Blue Apron meal they cooked for dinner! Tangelo-glazed salmon with apple farro and an extra side of green beans. {The meals we order from Blue Apron are portioned for two people, so I bought an extra fillet of salmon and some green beans at the grocery store to round out the meal and make it enough food for three!} The meal was aaaaamazing and we all toasted the chefs!

After dinner, we played a few rounds of a supremely fun card game called “Guillotine” that Allyn’s sister introduced us to a while ago. It is a simple premise, so the game is easy to learn, but it uses a combination of logic, strategy and luck that really keeps your interest. Usually my go-to activity after dinner is to relax on the couch with a TV show or movie, but having Greg here reminded me how much I love playing board games and card games, too!

During the game we enjoyed some leftover cake from the party on Saturday. Allyn made his typical sugar feast of an ice cream dish! He cracks me up. I tease him that he has the sugar tooth of an eight-year-old!

Monday

Greg and I have a tradition of going out for breakfast or brunch together. So on his last morning in town, Allyn and I took him to a gem of a breakfast place down the street, called Doug’s Place. It’s been in town since 1978 and has the homey atmosphere and huge portions of a local staple. Allyn ordered the “light” breakfast {which would be a normal-sized breakfast at any other restaurant: two eggs, bacon and toast} and Greg and I split a ginormous veggie omelet and French toast. I loved both items, but the French toast was the winner in my book!

Allyn didn’t have to work, and the rain was kindly holding off, so after breakfast we headed over to the mini-golf course. On a gray-skied Monday morning, we had the place to ourselves! It felt like we were kids playing hooky from school. The course is a lot of fun with some very creative hole designs. Greg got a hole-in-one!

For lunch, Greg said he was in the mood for “a fast-casual Mediterranean place” and, thanks to Yelp’s help, I was able to find a great spot called Shish Grill that was on the way to our afternoon activities. The boys ordered chicken shawarma and I got a falafel sandwich. The restaurant was busy with a lunch crowd but we were very impressed by the service and the food! After lunch, we stopped by my grandparents’ house as a surprise. Grandma is out of town visiting her sister, but Grandpap was home and he was so excited to see his grandson. The look on his face when Greg popped out from around the corner was priceless! We had a really nice time visiting with him.

Next up, we dropped off Greg at the gorgeous Lafayette Reservoir for a run while Allyn and I went to our tax appointment. Taxes are never very fun, but our appointment was less painful than I was anticipating, and I was excited about our first time filing as a married couple! #relationshipmilestones

The timing worked out perfectly and we swung around to the Lafayette Reservoir just as Greg was finishing his cool-down. I wish we lived closer to the reservoir because it is such a peaceful place to walk around. Fun fact: Allyn and I went to the Lafayette Reservoir for our second date, and it was the location of our first kiss!

We headed back home and Greg showered and packed up his stuff while Allyn and I made another Blue Apron meal for dinner. This recipe was chicken yakiniku with bok choy, sesame-marinated carrots and garlic rice, and it was another winner. Yakiniku, according to Blue Apron, is “a type of barbecue sauce that combines the sweet notes of teriyaki with the savory depth of sesame.” We all thought it was delicious and not too spicy! To ensure the meal would be enough for three people, I simply added some additional veggies and the boys also polished off leftover corn muffins from Saturday’s party.

After dinner we had just enough time for a rematch of “Guillotine.” Then, all too soon, it was time to drive Greg to the airport to catch his flight home. His visit went by so fast, but it also felt so full in the best way. I can’t wait until he visits again!

Questions of the day:

  • What are your favorite places in your hometown to take guests when they visit?
  • Have you ever had a “staycation” before?
  • What is your favorite card/board game or favorite movie you’ve seen recently?