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.

 

what our smelly little compost bin has taught me about hope

Where I live, waste management services not only take our recyclables and trash, they also take our food scraps to be composted. Composting is so important because it helps keep biodegradable waste out of landfills, thus not producing methane — the most potent greenhouse gas. {For more information on why this is so important, here is a helpful link.} Another amazing thing about composting is that it takes what was once “trash” and turns it into something useful — our banana peels and apple cores and egg shells eventually become nutritious fertilizer to help grow the next generation of plants, flowers and food.

However, in our apartment building, not many people compost. Here are the reasons the building manager gave: the little green bins get “stinky” {true — which is why you take them out often} and could potentially cause bug problems {not true in our experience}… also, that they are “a hassle.” But, when you think about it, pretty much everything that is good for you is a hassle! Brushing and flossing your teeth is a hassle. Cooking healthful meals is more of a hassle than the fast food drive-through. Going out of your way to help someone else is “a hassle.” All of these actions are more than worth it because they ultimately make our lives, our health, our communities and our world better.

Besides — especially when you live somewhere like we do where waste management services take care of dumping the big compost bins and carting the compost away every other week — composting is not that much of a hassle at all.

Still, something I have learned in life is that we can try our best to convince and persuade and motivate others, but when it comes down to it, we only truly have control over our own actions. Allyn and I cannot control whether the other people in our apartment complex care enough about the environment to compost their food scraps. But we can choose to compost our own food waste. We can choose to make grocery lists and buy less so food does not go bad wastefully. We can choose to buy food in bulk instead of in plastic containers. We can choose to carry our reusable bags to the grocery store. We can make small choices every day that reflect our values and make a tiny difference that, over time, adds up to big change.

*

When I was in high school during the second Bush presidency, one of my teachers was a Vietnam war veteran. He taught physics, but would occasionally go off on tangents about current events and politics. One day in particular, during the height of the Iraq War, he started ranting about the terrors of war. In a firm voice — the same tone he used to teach us the facts of the universe from our physics textbook — he predicted that there would once again be a draft and none of us would be able to get out of it. We would all go to war.

The fear in that room was palpable and contagious. One girl in the front row even started crying. She had a scholarship to play softball in college the next year, and by the end of class she was convinced that she wouldn’t be able to go to college because she would be drafted into the military. I remember comforting her in the hallway during passing period, my own fear a steady pressure in my chest. I don’t think our teacher meant any harm. I think he was dealing with his own worries and his own memories of war, and we were a captive audience. But I learned that day about the power fear has to take hold in you, and how quickly the flames can be fanned. The dark cloud of fear can eclipse your bright hopes for the future, unless you are vigilant and guard against it with the best resources you have. When the smoke of fear billows up in your life, you have two choices. You can use the fear around you to fan the flames of your own fear. Or you can choose to try your hardest to blow away the smoke with faith and patience and love and hope.

*

Many people in our nation — in our world — are hurting and scared. This is always the case, but it is especially true right now. Maybe you are hurting and scared. What can you do today to show yourself self-care and self-love? How can you be gentle with yourself? How can you choose love over fear today? And what is at least one way you can reach out and help someone else who needs it?

*

When I lived in Indiana during graduate school, composting was not the norm. Recycling was not very prominent, either. I still remember collecting all my bottles and cans that first month of living there, and searching online to realize there was no place to redeem them as there had been in my California hometown.

I have always cared about the environment. When I was a little girl, I used to daydream about planting trees along the grubby highways when we would drive to Los Angeles to visit relatives. It sickens and frightens me to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the decimation of rainforests, the looming extinction of many animal species, and our rising sea levels. And I do profoundly believe that the actions we take make a difference.

However, during this time I let myself sink into complacency. I did not make the effort to compost, or recycle as much as I could, or cut down on my plastic waste. I drifted along in the easy culture of consumption, letting myself forget that the trash I produced would actually GO somewhere — it didn’t magically disappear by a magic wand when the garbage collector took my trash bags away every other week. I didn’t take the time — didn’t go through the minor extra hassle — to truly ACT on my values. I let myself fall into the trap of believing that my small actions weren’t important “in the grand scheme of things” — that my actions, for some absurd reason, could be exempt from having consequences.

There was a lot going on in my life at that time, and I could make a lot of excuses for myself and my behavior. But I don’t want to. I feel sad that I let myself get carried away on the tide of apathy, but soon enough I found myself back on the shore. And, now more than ever, I know that I never want to be apathetic again. The thing about letting yourself “off the hook” — of choosing to look away, to not care, to pretend that you have no choice or power to change — is that it comes with a steep price. The guilt catches up to you.

*

Allyn very sweetly is the one who always takes our smelly compost bin out to the big green bins lined up by the parking lot and dumps our food scraps into the communal bin. When we first moved in ten months ago, he said there were hardly any other food scraps in there. Even worse, sometimes the big bins would be contaminated by trash or recycling.

But slowly, over time, a shift has happened. Allyn has started to notice the communal compost bins are fuller and fuller each week, and there is less and less contamination. Little by little, more people are beginning to compost their food scraps, even though it can be smelly, even though it can be a hassle. More and more people are beginning to care.

Every time I reach under the kitchen sink, lift open the lid of our compost bin, and dump in a banana peel or an apple core or an egg shell, I think about hope. I think about change. I think about beauty and love and selflessness. I think about doing whatever I can, in this singular life I have been given, to act on my values and do my part to make our precious world a better and brighter and more compassionate and inclusive place. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and onward and onward, I will make choices. I will choose to try. I will choose to care. I will choose to fight for justice and goodness and love. It is all that I can do.

I hope you will join me.

“The Magic Thread”

Last weekend at church, I had a truly amazing day. During the summer when our ministers are on sabbatical, Worship Associates get to lead the services. It was my honor and pleasure to lead the service this past Sunday. The entire congregation was so welcoming, loving and supportive. I am still “walking on air” after the experience! I wanted to share my sermon with you — but first, I need to share the story my sermon is based upon.

The Magic Thread

“The Magic Thread” is a fable about a boy named Peter who is not very different from you or me. Peter finds it very hard to enjoy whatever he is doing at the moment. He always wants to move on to the next thing in his life. Have you ever felt that way? Summer is too hot—he can’t wait for the autumn to arrive. Winter is too cold—he counts the days until springtime. School is okay, but none of his best friends are in his class, so he wants it to be the next year already. Then, his friends are in his class, but his teacher is very strict and assigns a lot of homework. He is always convinced that his life will be better next week, next month, next season, next year.

One day, Peter is walking home from school through the forest and he meets an old woman, who offers him a shining golden ball of magic thread. She explains, “This is the thread of your life, my boy. If you want time to pass more quickly, all you need to do is pull the thread a tiny bit, and an hour will pass like a second.”

However, she also gives him a warning: “Listen carefully: once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again. You can only move forward in time, never back.”

Peter joyfully takes the ball of magic thread. All his troubles are over! How easy life will be now, that he can skip forward past all the times of hardship and trouble. School is too boring, so what does he do? He pulls the magic thread and finds himself out of school and working at his first job. He meets a girl and falls in love. He can’t wait to marry her, so what does he do? He pulls the magic thread and—poof!—it’s their wedding day. When he feels sick, what do you think he does? He pulls the magic thread to feel better again. What about when he has troubles at work? Yep, you guessed it! He pulls the magic thread to move on to a new project, a better job, a corner office, a bigger promotion. But, as soon as one problem is solved, it seems another always appears in its place.

Before Peter knows it, he is an old man, and his wife is an old woman. Their daughters are grown and have left the house and moved on to their own careers and families. Peter goes for a walk in the forest, and meets the magical old woman once again. She smiles and asks him, “So Peter. Did you have a good life?”

“I’m not sure,” Peter admits. “Your magic ball of thread is a wonderful thing. I have never had to suffer or wait for anything in my life. And yet it has all passed so quickly. I have had no time to take in what has happened to me, neither the good things nor the bad. Now there is so little time left.”

The old woman smiles wisely and says she can grant him one final wish. “Choose,” she says. “Would you like to continue living with the magic thread, or would you like to live again as if for the first time, without it?”

Can you guess what choice Peter makes? Yep, he gave the magic thread back to the old woman and chose to live his life again, through each and every moment—the good and the bad, the wonderful and the boring. He woke up the next morning as a young boy again in his bed, and he was the happiest person in the world as he walked down the stairs into a perfectly ordinary day.

Below is a video taken of my sermon, or click here to watch it directly on YouTube. I hope you enjoy! 🙂

a year of Wooden: week 42

Happy Monday! Before we get into this week’s year of Wooden post, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all your kind comments, emails and words of encouragement after my post last week! It is always a little scary to make yourself vulnerable, but one of my goals as a blogger is to be honest with you guys — not to edit my life into a Pinterest-worthy highlight reel, but instead to give you a true picture of my ups and downs, highs and lows, nitty-gritty daily living. Thank you for always being so supportive!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.

Our focus for November comes from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Pray for guidance.”

Last week’s challenge was to pray about a big dream or goal you have for the future. I have a variety of dreams and goals I want to pursue — sometimes the trickiest part is choosing what to give attention to, and what to put on the back-burner. Thanks to last week’s prayers, I feel more centered and focused heading into these finals weeks of 2014. Excited to see what 2015 will bring!

This week’s challenge, in honor of Thanksgiving, is to pray about everything you are grateful for. When you wake up in the morning, journal about your feelings. 

Question for the day:

  • How did this week of praying for guidance go for you?

a year of Wooden: week 41

Hi, everyone! Hope your week is off to a wonderful start. Monday means that it’s time for a new year of Wooden post!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.

Our focus for November comes from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Pray for guidance.”

Last week’s challenge was to pray for guidance about something in your life that gives you questions or uncertainty. This past year I’ve experienced some setbacks and frustrations in my writing career, and even though I can’t imagine being anything other than a writer — writing is what I love deeply at my core — there have been some moments of doubt the past six months when I wondered if I was being realistic to think I could make a career out of it. But I kept plugging along, because that’s what I do. I kept writing and editing and sending my work out, logging rejections and sending my work out again, writing and writing and writing until my wrists ached.

Looking back, I think this “dry period” has been crucial for me — as an artist and as a person. I truly know now that I am writing for the love of it, writing what I want to write, writing what MATTERS to me, instead of worrying about money or marketing or selling or career-building. Although those things are important in their own way, they should never be front and center. As one of my favorite writers Elizabeth Berg told me, “First, please yourself.”

Which all goes to say that this past week, I prayed about my writing career, letting out all the questions and uncertainty and insecurities I have been bottling up inside me. And what did I receive in return? A resounding sense of peace and confidence that I am doing what I am meant to be doing. I received tangible confirmations this week, too: an acceptance for a short story I submitted months ago to North Dakota Quarterly; an update about a song-cycle being composed at Carnegie Mellon based upon a series my poems; and exciting developments regarding the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years.

All of this reminded me of one of my very favorite quotes by Coach Wooden:

things work out best quote

This week’s challenge is to pray about a big dream or goal you have for the future. Ask God or the universe or whatever you believe for guidance. When you wake up in the morning, journal about your feelings. 

Question for the day:

  • How did this week of praying for guidance go for you?