saying goodbye to our apartment

For the past two years, Allyn and I have lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I can still vividly remember the day we signed the lease and got the keys and unlocked the front door for the first time, stepping across the threshold like we were venturing into a bright new future.

Our new apartment was small, but to us it seemed like a castle. It was our very own home — a home we would build together. I can remember how excited I was at the idea of regular, everyday life with my sweetheart: unloading groceries in our fridge, cooking dinner in our kitchen, snuggling up together on our couch to watch a movie on a Saturday night {never mind that, when we first moved in, we did not yet have a couch.} All of those everyday-life couple-y things seemed, to me, like miracles. Like gold. Up to that point, our everyday routine meant juggling our lives and our schedules between his place and mine — which wasn’t even really “my” place, as I was living with my grandparents. We drove forty minutes to see each other for date nights and felt lucky to get two days in a row with each other. I treasured the weekends, when I could wake up to his sleepy smile.

Now, I get to wake up to his sleepy smile every day and fall asleep to his arms around me every night. I do my best to remember what it was like before I had this gift. I do my best to treasure it and treat it like the gold it is.

I remember leaving my grandparents’ house on the morning of Moving Day, feeling revved up as I climbed into my packed-up car. I was sad to say goodbye to my grandparents, even though I was so excited to be moving in with Allyn, and even though I knew I could come back and visit anytime. I always get sad at goodbyes, even when they are good goodbyes. My new apartment was only half an hour away, but I felt like I was driving across space-time as I navigated the two-lane canyon road from my old town to my new town. It was a sunny day, a perfect fresh beginning. Rarely in life do we have such clean-cut new chapters, but this was one of mine.

Moving Day was more of an ordeal than I expected it to be. How did we get so much stuff? The movers kept unloading boxes and unloading more boxes. Allyn’s mom and sister came to help, and I remember looking around our new living room crammed with Jenga towers of boxes, feeling overwhelmed yet also thrilled. It was real! It was happening! That first day, we focused on the important things: making the bed, getting our Internet and cable up and running, unpacking our new dishes in the kitchen. Allyson thoughtfully brought us toilet paper and paper towels. I remember scurrying around from room to room, thinking, Our kitchen! Our bathroom! Our bedroom! Our balcony!

That night, we celebrated with Mexican food. Then Allyn and I made the first of many Target runs to get essentials we had forgotten about: trash cans, a dish rack, hooks to hang our towels in the bathroom. That night, falling asleep together in our not-yet-familiar bedroom, listening to the new sounds of our fridge humming and our neighbors shifting the floorboards, I made a wish that this new chapter would be everything I hoped it to be, and more.

As excited as I was to move in with my sweetheart, I was also a little nervous. I knew from past experience that this was the make-it-or-break-it time of a relationship. This was where you truly got to know each other’s earthy roots and tangled messes, quirky annoyances and stubbled shadows. Previously, I had made a promise to myself that I would never again get engaged without living with the person first. When you live together, you can’t hide from each other. I was pretty sure that Allyn wasn’t hiding anything from me — that I knew him as well as I thought I did — and yet, I kept thinking of my ex, whose anger issues only emerged when we moved in together and he began to fully relax into himself around me. Of course, I wanted Allyn to be his full self around me, just as I was my full self around him. But I hoped that would still be the sweet, kind, and gentle man that I had fallen in love with.

Also, I hoped that I didn’t have any annoying habits that would make him stop loving me.

I clearly remember waking up that first morning in our new apartment, buzzing with energy about all of the clear-cut tasks before us: boxes waiting for us to unpack them, drawers and shelves waiting to be filled. Allyn used our new kettle to boil water for coffee and tea. We didn’t yet have a couch so we set up two camping chairs and sat in them as we ate our cereal out of bowls. The sun shone brightly through our new windows. There was such a sweet simplicity to our new life together. It almost felt like we were on vacation. Playing house. I wondered when it would sink in, when it would feel truly real.

It was only a couple weeks later that we went away to the Russian River together to celebrate our two-year dating anniversary, and Allyn got down on one knee and asked me to live with him forever. By that time, our new apartment already felt like home and our new life together already felt solid and stable and ours. I was not worried anymore that some secret part of him would emerge out of the shadows. I knew him, really knew him — in truth I always had, from our very first date. Allyn has this beautiful open-heartedness, this authentic spirit, that I trusted immediately. He had never been anything other than himself. We had only been living together for a couple weeks, yet I knew all that I needed to know. I said, “Yes!” with tears streaming down my face and pure joy filling my heart. Already, we were entering into another brand new chapter together.

In the past two years, I have indeed learned some quirks about my sweetie… that have only made me love him more. For dessert, he eats sour gummy candy out of a giant zip-lock bag like a twelve-year-old. He gets flustered when the dishwasher is only half-full and feels like there is no more room to put any dishes. He always hangs his towel up right away; hums when he is getting ready in the morning; always cuts food on the cutting board, never on a plate. We have an ongoing debate about the merits of the ice-cream scooper. {I believe it is perfectly acceptable to use a regular spoon to scoop ice cream from the carton; Allyn believes the spoon will get bent and insists on the scooper.} He is the sweetest and most attentive plant-waterer I could imagine.

This little apartment has been the perfect home for us in this season of life. It is crazy to think of how much has changed since we first moved here. In this cozy little apartment, we’ve woven our lives and dreams together. We put together a bookshelf and put up shelving and hung pictures. We planned our perfect-for-us wedding and celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary. We helped each other through career ups-and-downs, holding hands through the uncertainties and uncorking the Martinelli’s when Allyn got his full-time job working in the environmental department of the City of San Jose, and when I learned that my collection of short stories is going to be published. We fed friends around the dinner table and baked birthday cakes and even, at the last minute, hosted this past Christmas dinner {I wasn’t strong enough post-surgery to go anywhere else, so the meal & the people came to me!} Inside these walls, we have cuddled and talked and argued and laughed and loved each other through it all. In short, this apartment has been the sacred space where we have grown from two people into two roommates into one family.

We will be sad to leave this apartment. But also, we are ready. I remember, in first grade, reading a picture book about a hermit crab who outgrew his shell. He looked and looked and eventually found a new shell, which he decorated and made into his own. Then, a little while later, he outgrew that one too. It was time to move on and find his next-bigger shell. I think of that hermit crab, and he reminds me not to give into my resistance to change. That we need to let go of the shells we have outgrown, or else we will stop growing. That we can say goodbye to our cramped, too-small shells with love and gratitude in our hearts. That stepping forward into the next chapter of our lives does not mean that we will forget the chapters that came before.

Allyn and I are ready to live in our own home, with a yard and a guest bedroom and no shared walls with neighbors. As much as I love my little writing corner currently wedged in between the TV and the sliding glass door to our balcony, and as nice as it is to be steps away from the kitchen and bathroom throughout my workday, I am looking forward to having “a room of one’s own” — an office of my own that is not part of our living room space. Perhaps most of all, we are excited to move closer to Allyn’s work, shortening his long daily commute by an hour a day! It will be such a gift to have him home earlier each evening.

So we find ourselves circling back to the beginning. Our apartment is once again filled up with Jenga towers of boxes. We are once again preparing to step across the threshold into a bright future, with hope in our hearts that our new home will be filled with tenderness and grace, beautiful dreams and lovely surprises, new learning and growth.

At the end of Eric Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab, the hermit crab leaves his too-small shell in search of a new home:

The ocean floor looked wider than he had remembered, but Hermit Crab wasn’t afraid. Soon, he spied the perfect house–a big, empty shell. It looked, well, a little plain, but…

“Sponges!” he thought. “Barnacles! Clown fish! Sand dollars! Electric eels! Oh, there are so many possibilities! I can’t wait to get started!”

Goodbye, sweet apartment. Thank you for holding us, for shaping us, for bearing witness to our lives these past two years.

Hello, new house. We can’t wait to get started.


Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • Write about a home that has meant a lot to you. What memories did you make there? What did you learn while living there–about yourself, about your relationship, about other people?
  • Do you embrace change, or avoid change? Why do you think you feel this way about change? What are some changes in your life you have faced? Did they turn out the way you expected?
  • Imagine unpacking a box from your childhood bedroom. What are some items you would unpack? What would those items mean to you now, in your present life?

a tour of our apartment

Hello, friends, and happy Monday! Hope your day is off to a marvelous start. I am heading off soon to my favorite yoga class, but before I go I wanted to share with you some belated photos of the new apartment I moved into a couple months ago with my sweetie! We have finally gotten everything unpacked and all of our artwork hung up on the walls.

{Real talk: I snapped some photos right before we had Allyn’s mom and sister over for dinner, so this is a bit more tidy than it typically is! But we are trying to keep things relatively neat & clutter-free!}

If you were coming over for a visit, here is where you’d begin…

outside of our apartment

… you’d pull up to the outside of our apartment complex and park in one of the tree-shaded spots. Then we’d come out to greet you and lead you inside!

When you walk into our apartment, there is a short little hallway with a coatrack my sweetheart so handily installed, a hall closet and a linen closet, and our little bathroom. Over to your right is our kitchen…

Why hello there, pineapple on the counter!

Why hello there, pineapple on the counter!

… which leads directly into our dining area/big living room, plus my workspace off in the corner by the window.


One thing both Allyn and I really liked about this apartment from the first moment we saw it is the open layout. It is so nice to be able to prep dinner in the kitchen while still talking and visiting with people out in the living room area. And I think the openness makes our little one-bedroom apartment seem a bit bigger, too!

Here’s a close-up of the bookshelf we ordered off Wayfair and put together ourselves {so relieved it seems to be holding up all right!}

Our living room area leads out to a big balcony {which currently holds not much except for a few empty pots waiting for plants and Allyn’s bike.} When the weather gets warmer and spring fully arrives, I’m excited to get planting a little herb garden out there and maybe setting up an outdoor table and chairs for some al fresco dining!

The only room we have left to show you on our tour of our new apartment is the bedroom… as you can see, I snapped this photo when my sweetheart was working {his desk is there in the corner}… hi, honey!

our bedroom

The thing I love most about our apartment is that it feels like us. It is not the fanciest or biggest place, but it is homey and cozy and filled with reminders of the people we love, and our love for each other. Speaking of which, I haven’t even shared one of my favorite decor items…

LOVE sign

… our LOVE sign! Haha, I know it is corny, but I just love this sign so much. I found it on sale at Michael’s after Christmas and scooped it up, and then my sweetheart kindly installed this floating shelf so it can be displayed in all its lit-up glory. It always makes me smile!

And I would be remiss saying goodbye without letting our beautiful new fern plant say hello. His name is San Fern-ando and he was a housewarming gift from Allyn’s sister, Allyson. Did you know that Boston ferns are wonderful natural air purifiers? Plus they are so cheerful and green and easy to care for. We love ours!

San Fernando

That’s it for now! Thanks for stopping by our place. 🙂

Questions for the day:

  • What makes a house a “home” to you?
  • What are your favorite things about your home?
  • Do you have any apartment-living tips? Please share!

news! + year of virtues, month two

Hi friends! Wow, 2016 has been off to quite a whirlwind start in my neck of the woods.

In January, I…

… moved to a new apartment with my sweetie that, looking back at January’s focus from Ben Franklin’s List of Virtues, is pretty much successfully put into order. {We put together our bookshelf this past Sunday and our new couch was delivered yesterday!} It is looking much more homey and moved-in around here. I hope to share photos with you soon giving a tour of our new place, but in the meantime here are a couple snapshots of our kitchen!

new kitchen

new kitchen 2

Author Gretchen Rubin {who hosts my favorite podcast, Happier, with her sister Elizabeth Craft} says that “outer order contributes to inner calm.” After spending January focused on getting my surroundings into order, I have to say that I do feel much calmer in all aspects of my life. I have noticed that I am better about being on time to various appointments. I have no trouble getting up early and, most often, my dominant feeling upon waking up is excitement to jump into my day. I no longer waste time looking for things. I no longer feel “scattered” because my things are scattered all around. There is a distinct pleasure, I have learned, in putting an object back in its place. Marie Kondo writes about this feeling beautifully in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. As human beings we cannot control everything — we like to think we are in control, but life likes to remind us that indeed we are not — but we can at least control our surroundings. Perhaps that is why outer order contributes to inner calm: it helps us feel in control of at least some things. I know that when I begin the day with a clean kitchen and a clutter-free living room, I feel much more equipped to tackle my writing projects.

Also in January, I…

… cut 8+ inches off my hair. And I absolutely love my new hairstyle. I feel so much lighter and freer!

My dad wrote a column weaving together my haircut with some other beautiful stories. You can read it here. {Warning: have tissues handy!}

Hair after

The biggest & best thing that happened in January?

… my sweetheart popped the question, and I said YES! Easiest question I’ve ever been asked. I am so thrilled to spend my life with this amazing man who makes me laugh, makes me think, and makes me feel so loved every day.

Al and I engaged

I’ll share our full proposal story with you guys later this week! 🙂

In February {what remains of February… how is it already the 10th??} I am going to focus on Franklin’s virtue of MODERATION. In the early stages of planning a wedding, this seems like an especially appropriate virtue to keep in mind. We want our wedding to be special and fun, but we also want to keep things in perspective: it is one day out of our lives. As a wedding blog I read put it: think of your wedding reception as a six-hour-long party. My sweetie and I have decided that we don’t want to break the bank for a party that will be over in the blink of an eye. Instead, we want to focus on what a wedding truly means: committing to spending your life joined with another person. That is where the real joy and excitement lies!

And, yes, planning a great big party to celebrate is fun… in moderation!

Questions for the morning:

  • What in your life do you wish to “get in order”?
  • Do you agree that “outer order contributes to inner calm”?
  • Any tips for planning a wedding? I’d love to hear them!!

a year of virtues: living like Ben Franklin

Back in college, I read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and I was struck by many things: namely, how organized this great man was — and how that was likely a necessity due to the many, many amazing things he was involved with, just one of which was the founding of our country!

Something else that has stayed with me all these years is Franklin’s list of virtues that he believed created a fulfilling life:

Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues

1. TEMPERANCE: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

2. SILENCE: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

3. ORDER: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

4. RESOLUTION: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

5. FRUGALITY: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

6. INDUSTRY: Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. SINCERITY: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. JUSTICE: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. MODERATION: Avoid extreams (sic); forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. CLEANLINESS: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths (sic), or habitation.

11.TRANQUILLITY: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

12. CHASTITY: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

13. HUMILITY: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

I thought a fun project to chronicle this year on the blog is living by Benjamin Franklin’s virtues, focusing on one per month. {Except for chastity… I think Franklin makes a great point, but I don’t quite feel like chronicling that topic on this blog!} 😉 Unlike previous years where I posted a new challenge each week, I’ll just be doing a recap post of these challenges each month. This is to keep things simple, and also because I want to stay on top of blogging as best I can, and posting a new challenge each week was sadly not feasible by the end of last year. I have been excited to pick up a lot of different freelance projects and teaching projects that excite me — but they also make my plate a little more full than it was before! Thanks for being patient, and for continuing to read, as I work to find my “blogging groove” in this exciting new chapter of my life.

Speaking of new chapters… this month, I am moving into a new apartment with my sweetheart!

me and Allyn France

We will be living in a relatively small, quiet town in the Bay Area in our very own one-bedroom place. I am very excited!

For the month of January, my focus will be ORDER. Piggybacking on last year’s simplicity challenge, I would love to start 2016 off with an organized, orderly home and work life, with each thing in its place and only the things that bring my life joy. I will let you know how it goes!


my perfectly decorated apartment

Last week, Kellyn from Compass reached out to me asking if I would do a “Starter Stories” blog post about my first apartment. I thought it sounded like a fun idea, so I wanted to share with you an essay I wrote about the first apartment I lived in all by myself, when I moved from California to Indiana to attend graduate school.

This essay was first published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home and also appeared in the online literary magazine Faith, Hope & Fiction.

apartment front door

My Perfectly Decorated Apartment

“It’s perfect!” I told the landlord. “When can I sign the lease?”

It was a chilly April afternoon in the small college town of West Lafayette, Indiana. I had just been accepted to graduate school at Purdue University and, after three whirlwind days of sitting in on classes and meeting professors, I had decided that this was the program for me. West Lafayette would be my new home for the next three years. I was nervous, but also very excited.

Before catching my flight back to my California hometown, I drove around looking at apartments. The second place I visited was part of an old Victorian-style house that had been sectioned off into four separate apartments. As I drove through the shady tree-lined neighborhood, the stress and frantic pace of the last three days ebbed away into a calm tranquility. Yes, I thought. This feels right.

front porch

The apartment was charming. Bay windows, hardwood floors, a wide front porch. It was the ground floor unit, which meant the front door was the original front door of the house. How neat it would be, I thought, to walk through that beautiful front door every day! And the porch would be the perfect place to write or do homework when the weather is nice.

I signed the lease right then and there.

The rest of that spring into summer, whenever I felt nervous about packing up my life and moving halfway across the country, I would think of that apartment. I’d never had my very own place before, and it felt like a milestone on the path to adulthood. In college I’d not only shared an apartment with three other girls, I’d even shared a bedroom with a roommate because living costs were so expensive. Now, I’d finally have a place of my own that I could decorate however I wanted. I explored websites and daydreamed about curtains and dishes, rugs and duvets.

Moving day came. I crammed my car with clothing and books and drove for five days along Interstate 70, from the Southern California beaches into the heart of the Indiana cornfields. I walked up the stairs onto my new front porch, unlocked the giant glass-paned front door, and strolled around the empty rooms with a huge smile on my face. It was all mine! I was officially a grown-up, living on my own!


I immediately threw myself into turning my empty apartment into a home. I scoured Craigslist, wandered the aisles of flea markets and used furniture shops, and dipped into my savings account to buy kitchen supplies and dishes. I was a giddy, energetic decorating fiend.

Before long my apartment looked like the apartment I had been dreaming about for months. Red accent pillows on the couch matched the red cushions on the kitchen chairs. Sunlight shone through the gauzy white curtains, warming up the rooms. Prints of my favorite Impressionist paintings hung on the walls. The bookshelves were filled with books I loved and photographs of my friends and family. I looked around and was filled with contentment. Yes, I thought. This is perfect.


Except … something felt a little off. I had carefully decorated and cozied-up my apartment, but somehow it still didn’t feel like home. I would come back from class and sit on my comfortable couch, the pillows perfectly fluffed, the coffeetable free of dirty dishes, the TV remote exactly where I had left it—and loneliness would ebb through me in gigantic crashing waves. All my closest friends and family were thousands of miles away, and I ached with homesickness for them.

I tried to fill the emptiness with more decorating: a pretty embroidered tablecloth for the kitchen table, a bright rug for the bathroom, a congregation of houseplants under the Bay windows. But nothing quite worked. My apartment still didn’t feel like a real home to me.


One evening in mid-October I was eating dinner alone at my kitchen table, feeling nostalgic as usual. How nice it was back then, I thought. Coming home to a lively apartment with three roommates. My new apartment was too small for more than one person. Maybe my mistake had been thinking I could live alone? I started thinking about the parties my roommates and I hosted in college, celebrating a holiday or someone’s birthday. Those were my favorite memories from that time in my life: all of my closest friends together in one place, laughing and telling stories and sharing food.

Suddenly, I had an idea: what if I threw a party here, in my new apartment?

living room

I sent out invitations for an autumn potluck to everyone in my program and spent the entire day before the party cleaning my already-clean apartment from top to bottom. I bought autumn-themed paper bowls and napkins and made two big pots of chili. I arranged pumpkin centerpieces for the kitchen table and coffee table. Everything looked perfect. But I was nervous. What if it was a disaster?

In some ways, maybe it was a disaster. Wine spilled on one of my new rugs and left a small stain. Someone dropped one of my new plates and it chipped. Dirt was tracked in on the floors, the pillows on my couch were smooshed, and my new embroidered tablecloth was littered with crumbs. It took days for me to find the TV remote, which someone had unaccountably placed on the very top bookshelf. When the party wound down to a close and the last guests had traipsed out the door into the night, my apartment was a total mess.

And I could not have been happier.

me in apartment

I used to believe that filling an empty apartment meant buying furniture and decorating the walls. But I learned that what really makes a place into a home is welcoming others inside it with you.

That night, my new apartment was filled with people and food and joy. The walls soaked up their stories and laughter so that even when they left and I was by myself again, I didn’t feel alone. I drifted to sleep with a smile on my face.

purdue friends

For the first time since I had moved in, I felt like I was home.