what i’ve learned as a new mom

Hi everyone, and happy 2019! I am thrilled to introduce you to my daughter Maya Woodburn McAuley. She was born on December 4th at 10:57pm. She is the most beautiful thing we have ever seen and my husband and I are completely, totally, head-over-heels in-love with her.

Becoming a parent is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. With the sleep deprivation, exhaustion, demands of breastfeeding, and constant neediness a newborn baby brings, there have definitely been days when I have felt completely overwhelmed. But that is coupled with a profound love and gratitude for this itty-bitty baby we are blessed enough to get to care for. Rarely in my life have I been through a season that is both indescribably good and indescribably hard — but parenthood is both. It has broken me down into the core of my being and transformed me into a new level of my being.

My mom brain is tired and my thoughts are scattered, so I’m going to organize this as a list post. Here are, in no particular order, some things I’ve discovered as a new mom.

1. The human body is truly astounding. Pregnancy was miraculous enough — watching my body change and my belly grow, week by week, as I created a new human being inside me. Giving birth took my awe to a whole new level. I never want to forget how amazing my body is and what it can do.

In daily life, it is easy to get caught up in viewing our bodies through a lens of shallow perfectionism. Especially as women, we are surrounded by messages of what we “need” to tweak, change, shave, shine, primp, tighten {etc etc} about our bodies in order to make them beautiful, sexy, worthy. But pregnancy and giving birth has reminded me — has dug the knowledge deep within my bones — that my body is worthy and strong and good and enough exactly as it is. I do not need to change a thing. Whenever I feel otherwise, I need to lean into the truth of my body’s resilience and strength and be grateful for all that my body does for me each and every day. My body has climbed mountains. My body has explored cities. My body has birthed a tiny human being. My body lets me run and jump and stretch and hug and carry my daughter as we dance around and around the room. My body deserves to be cherished.

2. Sometimes confidence needs to be faked before it is felt. That first night in the hospital, as Maya cried and cried, my husband and I looked at each other with wide eyes. Our expressions said, “Now what do we do?” We had been up for more than 24 hours after a long labor. As excited as I was to be a mom, in truth Maya didn’t quite feel like *mine* right away. She felt like this random baby we were tasked with caring for — with no instruction manual. I kept catching my brain wondering where this baby’s parents were and when they would come teach us what to do.

I spent nine months being a pregnant woman. Then, within a day, I became a mom. But I didn’t feel like a mom yet. In truth, I was terrified.

Maya didn’t know any of that. All she knew was that she was hungry and I fed her. She was wet and Daddy changed her diaper. She was tired and we rocked her to sleep. To her, we were “real” parents from the very beginning. Of course we knew what we were doing.

As the days and weeks passed, I began to relax more into my new identity. Gradually, I’ve gotten to know Maya better — and she has gotten to know me. Looking back now, it is amazing how much more confident I feel as a mother. Yes, there will still be times when Maya is screaming her head off and I’m trying in vain to soothe her and I wish there was an instruction manual or “expert” I could pass her off to. But for the most part, the confident smile I used to summon all my energy to plaster onto my tired face is a genuine smile of confidence these days.

3. You can prepare and prepare and prepare… but there are some things in life you simply cannot fully prepare for. Allyn and I took all the prenatal classes. We read so many books. We watched videos. We downloaded podcasts. We practiced tasks on a baby doll: putting on a diaper, swaddling, burping, sponge-bathing. We listened to advice from other people.

The week before Maya was born, everything was all ready for her arrival. The baby furniture was set up. The baby clothes were washed and organized. Our hospital bags were packed. Our freezer was stocked with easy meals to reheat and our pantry was stocked with snacks.

We did everything we could think of to prepare. And yet… when the time came to bring her home from the hospital, I felt very unprepared. In truth, nothing could have prepared us for the realities of life with a newborn baby. No amount of other people’s stories about sleep-deprivation teach you what it feels like to go weeks upon weeks waking up every two hours to feed a baby.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for things as best you can. I’m so grateful we came home to an organized nursery and lots of food in the freezer. I’m so glad we took all those baby classes. But I’ve learned to give myself grace and to accept the messiness of life’s new challenges. I will make mistakes. I will not be perfect. And that is part of the beauty of the journey. Some things, you only learn by experiencing them yourself.

4. A community of support is invaluable. We are so, so lucky to have a ton of family and friends who surrounded us with love and care when Maya was born — and continue to do so, offering help and hugs and listening ears. My parents drove up from Southern California and stayed with us for a few days to help us get our bearings. My mom came up again when Allyn went back to work so I would feel less overwhelmed with the transition of caring for a baby by myself all day. My sister-in-law Allyson cleaned our entire house while we were in the hospital so we would come home to a clean house, and also organized a meal train for the first few weeks we were home. Family and friends came to meet Maya — and also to bring us food and do our dishes. I can’t count how many people have brought us groceries. My mother-in-law comes over frequently to hold Maya so I can take a shower or take a nap. People sent cards and gifts and flowers and prayers. I still receive text messages nearly every day from friends — checking up on me, asking how things are going, letting me know they care.

One of my favorite experiences of my entire life has been seeing the people I love shower love onto my daughter. It is so special to witness such a tangible outpouring of their love as they hold her, rock her, and cuddle her close.

5. You can hold gratitude and sadness in your heart at the same time. Before Maya was born, I read about the “baby blues” and postpartum depression, but I never expected to feel those things myself. After all, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to be a mother. Even as a little girl, I dreamed of one day having a child of my own. And after the heartbreaking experience of an ectopic pregnancy the year before, I understood deep in my heart what a gift it is to be granted a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

But sometimes, in the early weeks of life with our newborn daughter, I found myself bursting into tears and sobbing into my hands. I would feel a pit of despair well up within me for no discernible reason. I mourned my old life — the sense of control I used to feel over myself, my body, and my time. At the prospect of another sleepless night, I would find myself thinking, “I can’t do this. I don’t know if I can do this.”

Then I would feel wracked with guilt. Because of course I knew what a blessing it was to be able to do this. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel sad or tired or frustrated — I should only feel grateful. I should feel grateful all the time.

What I’ve learned through becoming a mother is that it is possible to want something very much, and to feel astoundingly grateful to have something, and also to feel sad and overwhelmed and annoyed and exhausted. Our feelings are not mutually exclusive. Feeling one thing does not preclude the other. Trying to push away my sadness — or compounding it with guilt — only made it worse. By acknowledging the breadth of my feelings and giving myself grace to feel them all, I was able to move through the sadness much easier. Talking to Allyn about how I was feeling, and having him listen to me patiently without judging me at all, was a huge step in my journey of embracing the whole package of motherhood — not just the Hollywood highlight reel, but the beautiful daily grind of it.

6. Self-care does not have to be complicated. Sometimes, self-care is as simple as brushing your teeth, washing your face, drinking a glass of water. When I get to take a shower, it is glorious. Instead of mindlessly going through the motions, I savor the sensations of the water beating down my back and the smooth soap on my skin. A good nap makes me feel newly alive again. Even going to the grocery store can be an act of vibrant self-care! I went out by myself for the first time last weekend {leaving Allyn at home with a sleeping Maya and a bottle of breastmilk just in case she woke up hungry} and slowly pushing my cart down the aisles felt like such a glorious luxury.

7. Stories save us. Whether it is listening to my mom’s stories about how overwhelmed she felt when my brother and I were first born {something that is impossible to imagine now — my confident, capable mother ever feeling overwhelmed} or texting with a fellow new mom friend about the trials of breastfeeding, or reading blog posts written by new moms about their joys and struggles with motherhood… stories have become my lifeline in an entirely new way during this season of my life. Stories make me feel understood and less alone. They give me hope and connection. They make me laugh. If ever I have doubts about the power stories hold — because it can be a less tangible power than other things, perhaps — the experiences in my life that bring me to my knees always remind me tenfold why I have devoted my life to storytelling.

In a nutshell, I believe that stories are love. Telling our stories is sharing our own unique and sacred love with the world.

8. The only constant in this life is change. As I write this, Maya is seven weeks and three days old. She has already gone through so many changes since we brought her home from the hospital. Her umbilical cord dried up and fell off. She gained back the weight she lost after birth and she continues to steadily gain weight each week. Already, she has grown out of her newborn clothes. Her cheeks have filled out and her little arms and legs are delightfully pudgy. Her eyes have grown more alert. She sleeps for longer stretches during the night (hallelujah!) and is awake for longer stretches during the day. She makes little noises as if she is trying to talk to us. She has started to smile real smiles of happiness, not just gas. Every day, it seems, she is doing something new.

I have always loved the song “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” by Darius Rucker, and becoming a mom has made me love this song in a whole new light. Now when I listen to this song, it makes me cry. I think of this song when Maya has a diaper blowout five minutes after I changed her last diaper. I think of this song when she wants to eat again for the umpteenth time and doesn’t care one iota about my sore nipples. I think of this song when she is being fussy and I feel like I’ve done nothing all day except dance with her around the kitchen, holding her in different positions, trying to get her settled and sleepy. In moments of frustration or weariness, I remind myself that it won’t be like this for long. This too shall pass. Things will change, as they always do.

One day — in what I am sure will feel like the blink of an eye — this itty bitty baby will be crawling, and then walking, and then going to school, and riding her bike, and going to sleepovers, and learning to drive, and heading off into her own life all grown up. And I will think back to when she was a fussy little seven-week-and-three-day-old baby, and I will wish more than anything to spend a day dancing with her around the kitchen as she cries and wails and finally snuggles to sleep against my chest.

house-hunting lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

be like the ducks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your turn {if you want}:

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

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

what i learned from a week of teaching kindergarten

Happy Friday, friends! Today I’m delighted to share a guest post with you that I wrote for Candace Bisram’s wonderful blog Pocketful of Smiles. It’s about some lessons I learned from my week of teaching kindergarten a few summers back. Hope you enjoy!

 

What I Learned From a Week of Teaching Kindergarten

Home from work, I flopped onto my bed without even taking off my shoes. “Oh my gosh!” I sighed into the phone to my parents. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so exhausted.”

It was summer, and I was teaching a weeklong writing and public speaking class through the local Parks & Recreation Department. When I signed up to teach the class, I didn’t know what age group I would be assigned. And then, when I learned my assignment, I wasn’t worried.

Kindergarten. How hard could it be? We would read picture books, sing songs, draw some pictures. Golden.

The first day, I realized the extent of my misconception…

 

You can read the rest of the piece published on Pocketful of Smiles here!

 

That’s all for today! Hope you have a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend. 🙂

thoughts on turning 30

Hi, everyone! Hard to believe, but this is my very last blog post of my twenties. My birthday is on Monday, and I schedule blog posts for Tuesdays and Fridays. So the next time you hear from me, I’ll officially be in my thirties! A brand new decade. I feel ready.

I used to expect that I would feel some anxiety about turning 30. Society makes such a big deal about it, and 30 somehow seems so much older than, say, 28. There’s also the fact that part of me still feels sixteen sometimes, and it is strange for your actual age to progress farther and farther beyond an age you remember being so vividly. At some point, I’ve crossed over from “girl” to “young woman” to, simply, “woman.” How did that happen?

{My sixteenth birthday, with goofy Gar}

But, on the other hand, there are lots of ways that I can tell I have grown. I remember my first semester teaching undergrads at Purdue, just a year out of college myself, and I felt very much in the same demographic check-box as my students. But it does not feel that way now. When Allyn and I visited my cousin Arianna in college last October, I couldn’t get over how young the undergrads seemed. Had we been that young, too? Looking at them and listening to Arianna’s dorm room stories, I felt the same way I feel when my students talk about middle-school PE class: I remember that time in my life and that version of myself so clearly, and yet it feels like I am peering at her through a pane of glass or reading about her in a book. I am not that same Dallas anymore. I have morphed and expanded and grown and learned a lot since then.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I am not dreading turning 30 is that my whole perspective on aging shifted forever when Celine died so tragically and brutally young. Now, every birthday feels like such a privilege, such a stroke of luck, such a thing to celebrate. I no longer take birthdays for granted, in a way that was not as true before we lost Celine. I would give up chocolate for the rest of my life if Celine got to turn 30 and 40 and 50 and 60 and get all gray-haired and wrinkly.

{Celebrating her 21st birthday… what a fun night that was!}

So I am utterly stoked that I get to turn 30! What a blessing it is to enter this new chapter of life.

In truth every day is a new beginning; as my brother wisely says, “Every single day is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” But there is something about birthdays, and particularly about turning over a new leaf of a sparkling new decade here on this planet, that feels exhilarating and shiny.  Yes, my twenties were wonderful in many ways: I lived with three of my best friends, studied abroad in England for six months, graduated college. I moved back home for a year and got to live with my parents again, but in a different way: inhabiting the house as three adults more than two adults and a child. That was such a precious year, to simply be together and soak up time with them, even though I was anxious about my future and what would happen next… and then something did happen, I got into graduate school, and I moved to Indiana and got my MFA in Fiction and learned so much and lived on my own for the first time in my life. I learned to cook and I learned to trudge through the snow and I learned how strong I was. I fell in love and fell to pieces. I went on blind dates and terrible dates and online dates and magical dates. I wrote three novels and one short-story collection and I got a literary agent. I moved to the Bay Area and lived with my grandparents, and they became two of my best friends, and I learned that life is too short but it is also long and will surprise you sometimes in the best way. I fell in love again and knew that this was what I had been searching for, waiting for, dreaming about, always. And, reader, I married him.

So my twenties were glorious, yes. But they were also lonely and painful and searching in many ways. Now, from where I stand on the cusp of thirty, life feels sturdier under my feet. I feel sturdier in myself. I know who I am and what I want and where I am going. Not only can I successfully blow-dry my hair and flip a pancake without making a big mess, I realized the other day that I truly feel happy in my career for the first time in a long time. I feel like I am doing the writing I am supposed to be doing, and I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. No longer am I sweating through criticism in workshops, feeling like I’m not “literary” or “tortured” enough. I am proud of my writing and I no longer feel the need to “prove myself” to anyone else. As novelist Elizabeth Berg once told me: First, please yourself. I finally understand what she meant. I genuinely feel excited to wake up each day and get to work on things, and there are never enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.

For my tenth birthday, my parents surprised me with a gift I had been begging for and dreaming about: a boxer puppy. Gar would light up my life and expand my world, making me laugh with his goofy antics, sleeping at the foot of my bed most nights, and curling up beside my computer as I wrote stories late into the night. At ten, I would publish my first collection of short stories and poems, and my dream of making a career as a writer would officially be born. I felt like the luckiest girl in the whole world.

For my twentieth birthday, I was home from college for the summer and my family and I flew kites at the park. Gar was no longer in our lives, only in our memories and photographs, and we had a new exuberant boxer puppy on our hands: Mr. Murray. After turning twenty, I would spend a summer abroad at Cambridge and later would study abroad for a whole semester in England, where I turned 21 and it wasn’t even that big of a deal because the drinking age was 18 there. I remember celebrating with Chinese take-out and ice cream, surrounded by my British flatmates, feeling impossibly lucky and impossibly grown-up.

{My roommates threw me a surprise 21st birthday party 8 months before my actual birthday, before we all went abroad. I don’t think I’ve ever been more surprised! It was such a fun party, and so thoughtful of them.}

For my thirtieth birthday, I will be in my favorite place I’ve ever been: my childhood home, with my parents, and my brother, and my husband, and a gray-faced Murray snoring on the couch. I no longer feel impossibly grown-up—there is still so much I have yet to learn. But I don’t feel impossibly young, either. There are some things I have learned. There are some things I know for certain. One of them is how lucky I am. No matter how old I get, I hope I always remember that.

Cheers to 30! I’m all in.

Your turn {if you want}:

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

  • What are some of the highlights from the decades of your life?
  • What lessons have you learned in the past 10 years?
  • How do you approach birthdays and getting older? What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate?

my dad, the “streaker”

This is my dad:

He is a proud and accomplished “streaker.” And no, I don’t mean running naked through the streets. He has a streak of running at least 3.1 miles every single day for the past 13 years and 8 months, which is even officially certified by the United States Running Streak Association. In fact, today he is celebrating the milestone of 5,000 days in his running streak!

Think about that. 5,000 days. It is quite remarkable. Is there anything in your life that you have done, or can even imagine doing, for 5,000 days straight?

I am so proud of my dad. I am also super inspired by him. He has taught me so much simply by example. Here are five things I have learned from his day-by-day running streak:

1. Streamline your decisions. When possible, just make the decision once and be done with it.

My dad doesn’t make the decision every single day to go for a run. He has already decided that he will run every day. The only decision left to make is when to go for a run — and, actually, he has streamlined this decision, too, because he runs at around the same time every afternoon. Dad tells me that this is infinitely easier than if he was weighing the choice every day about whether to go for a run or not. Becoming a “streaker” may seem like the most difficult undertaking, but Dad claims it is actually easier to run every single day than to run every other day, or five days a week. Why? Because he has already chosen to run every day. Being a streaker takes the guesswork or decision-making out of it. Of course, there are days he doesn’t feel like running. But he already decided that he will run. So he laces up his shoes and gets out there.

I am applying this principle to my writing and yoga practices. I try to work on my novel and do a simple yoga routine every morning when I get up, just as part of my daily routine. No longer am I trying to decide if I “feel” like writing or moving my body. I just do it, no questions asked. And it has become an infinitely easier and less fraught process! I am always happier after I’ve written, and never do I regret my yoga time.

2. Don’t worry about what others think of you, especially when you are pursuing what you love.

Epictetus once said, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish.” There are certainly people out there who don’t understand why my dad runs every day. There are times he has been thought foolish. One specific memory that comes to mind is when Dad flew to England to visit me when I was studying abroad back in college. His flight left very early in the morning, and based on the time difference, he only had a small window of time to get his run in that day when he arrived late at night. So, Dad laced up his running shoes and went for an 11pm run through the narrow cobblestone streets. Some young Brits out partying thought he was crazy and shouted at him, “Bloody Yank, what are you out running for?” Dad loves to tell this story with a chuckle. He doesn’t mind when others don’t understand his passion for running. What matters is that he knows how important his running streak is, for him personally. What matters is that he runs for his own satisfaction and joy.

3. You can do hard things.

Dad runs when it is cold and rainy and when it is blazing hot. He runs on Christmas and on his birthday and every holiday there is. He runs when he has a cold or the flu or a sinus infection or sore muscles. He gets up early and runs before long trips, and once he ran loops around the airport. He runs on vacation. He runs when he is tired. He runs when he is sad and when he is excited and when he is bored. He runs when it is hard. If you had told Dad when he first started his streak that he would run for the next 5,000 days straight, it might have seemed overwhelming. But he has plugged along, slowly adding to his streak total day by day by day, week by month by year. He has shown me that we are all capable of more than we could ever imagine.

4. You never know how many people you are inspiring.

Every day, my dad runs loops around a local park. Running on grass is easier on his joints and muscles than running on roads and sidewalks, and I can imagine there is a meditative quality to running loops around the same park each day, and watching the scenery change slightly with the seasons. He runs so much that he has created his own path in the grass that has become trampled down by his thousands of footsteps. Now, other people use his path in the grass for their daily walks. Children bike through the park on their way home from school and wave to him — they call him “The Path Man.” A little boy came up to him recently and said they look for him every day on their drive home from school past the park. They call him ORM — “Our Running Man.” A few years ago, when news broke about the Boston Marathon bombings, strangers came up to him at the park with relief on their faces — they had been worried he was in Boston, running the marathon.

My dad didn’t begin his streak to inspire others. He doesn’t run every day to inspire others. He runs for himself. And yet, simply by doing what he loves and doing it with passion, he inspires countless people with his dedication and effort. He has taught me that you never know who is watching you and learning from you. When you light up yourself, your light spreads to others around you. When you light up yourself, you inspire others to light up themselves, too.

5. Celebrate the milestones, and also savor the everyday moments.

Today is a big day for Dad. After his afternoon run, he is getting together with friends at one of his favorite local breweries to celebrate the magic of 5,000. It is a day to look back and be proud of what he has accomplished.

But, you know what? Tomorrow is another day to be proud of. And so is the next day. And the next. I know that tomorrow, Dad will lace up his shoes and savor the everyday magic of day 5,001. Because every run — like every day — is its own unique gift. As my brother Greg likes to say, “Each day is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Dad truly embodies the maxim to make each day a masterpiece, and I could not be prouder to be his daughter.

Congratulations, Daddy! I love you!

because I didn’t hit “snooze”

I almost hit “snooze” this morning.

I’ve confessed in this space before that I used to have a problem with hitting snooze. But, thanks to some reflection as part of my year of living simply, I realized that I didn’t like how snooze made me feel. I didn’t really get any extra quality sleep, and I just felt bad about myself when I finally did get out of bed… like I was already “behind” on my day. So I vowed to give up on snooze, and get out of bed when my alarm first goes off in the morning. I usually feel a little groggy when I first wake up, but by the time I’ve washed my face, put my contacts in, and downed two glasses of water, I am wide awake and ready to go!

me glasses

However, old habits can be hard to break. Even when you have some great momentum going, it can be so easy to slip right back into old patterns. Because old patterns are comfortable. They tend to feel good in the moment, even if you know they don’t make you feel your best in the long run.

This morning, I almost hit snooze. My alarm went off and I just wanted to snuggle down into the covers for five more minutes. {Which would likely lead to five more minutes… and five more minutes… and five more minutes…} However, I intentionally set my alarm for as late a time as possible for me to get out of bed and still make it to yoga class without feeling rushed. So, hitting snooze would have meant a snowball decision: five or ten or fifteen extra minutes of half-sleep, and no chance of getting to yoga on time.

In that moment, I didn’t want to go to yoga class.

But I knew that Future Me would *wish* I had gone to that yoga class.

So I threw off the covers, got out of bed, and turned off my alarm. I changed into my yoga clothes that I had laid out on my bedside chair the night before. I drank my two glasses of cold water, ate a banana, and drank some green tea.

tea saying

And I felt awake. And energized. And jazzed for my day.

In fact, I had gotten ready so quickly that I still had about twenty minutes until I needed to leave the house. I remembered a delightful podcast I listened to last week, Real Talk with Nicole Antoinette, where she talked about her realignment to how she views time, particularly small pockets of time — ten minutes, twenty minutes — that she used to think were “not enough time” to get anything worthwhile done, so she would waste them away by surfing the Internet or scrolling through her phone. But ten or twenty minutes ARE enough — for taking a walk, for reading a chapter of a book, for meditating. Inspired by that thought, I used my extra pre-yoga twenty minutes to do some journaling, and it was enough time to get down some great ideas for my novel and for future blog posts. I felt excited to come back later and write more!

I left early enough for yoga class not to feel rushed. Instead of listening to the radio during my five-minute drive, I let silence envelop the car and just listened to my breathing. To my thoughts.

Yoga class was lovely, both relaxing and invigorating. Sometimes I feel shy when I sit down on my mat before class starts, but today I mustered the effort to strike up a conversation with the woman next to me, and we chatted for a few minutes. It was so nice. I was reminded of the ways that little bits of small talk and smiles with strangers make us feel connected to the wider world around us. While I think of myself as a natural introvert — I recharge by spending time alone or with a small group of people I am close to — I still need to feel this connection with the broader world in order to feel my happiest.

If I had hit snooze, I would have been late to yoga class, and would have missed out on this breath of connection. Or, I might have hit snooze a couple times, and decided not to go to class at all.

peaceful ocean

My body felt so good after yoga class that I wanted to keep the momentum going. I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and picked up some organic veggies and frozen fruit and spinach, and I came home and made myself a fresh green smoothie. It was delicious. Instead of ducking my head behind my computer monitor, I chatted with my grandparents in the kitchen while I drank my smoothie. I didn’t feel at all like I was “behind schedule.” I felt overflowing, like there was time enough for everything I needed to do and wanted to do. Certainly there was ten minutes to drink my green smoothie and talk with my loved ones.

And then I washed the blender and my smoothie mug, made a fresh cup of green tea, and came to sit at my computer to type up this blog post. It is 11:00 a.m. and I am just now checking my email, and the world didn’t end. Nothing was so urgent that it couldn’t wait a couple hours.

I feel energized and excited about my plans for the rest of the day. I feel eager to work on my novel, jazzed about my sessions with students later, and connected to the world and to myself. I feel balanced and capable. Most of all, I feel grateful for the gift of this beautiful day and this precious life.

And I feel grateful that I didn’t press “snooze.”

life is like a wine tasting

sunstone winery

Yesterday, we took a “family staycation day” and drove up to the San Ynez Valley to explore the beautiful vineyards. It was a gorgeous day and we ended up doing a wine tasting at Sunstone Winery, which was absolutely delightful. It was my first time doing a wine tasting at a winery, and got me thinking about the ways that life is like a wine tasting:

1. Each taste is unique and lovely in its own way, and should be enjoyed for what it is. For example, if you expect a pinot grigio to be a merlot, you are going to be disappointed. But if you pay attention to the distinct flavors of the pinot grigio, you are able to appreciate it for what it is. In the same way, each season of life has different flavors — pros and cons, perks and disappointments. Try to appreciate the season of life you are in for all the gifts it has to offer, instead of wishing for a different season. You will get there soon enough, and there will likely be things you miss about your life here and now!

me and mom winery

2. Each pour is meant to be savored, not rushed through. So often, it can feel like we are rushing through life: counting down hours in a workday, scrolling through email constantly on our smartphones, yearning for the weekend or for our next vacation. Even meals are often hurried affairs, something we rush through rather than enjoy, or mindlessly eat in front of the TV — have you ever finished eating something and realized you barely even tasted a single bite? In a wine tasting, each taste is sipped slowly and savored. Can you imagine what life would be like if we treated every meal with such respect? Not to mention, if we tried to savor each moment of our day as if it were a sip of expensive wine?

greg and pops winery

3. The joy of the experience doesn’t come from the wine itself — it comes from the people you share it with. If I had gone wine-tasting by myself yesterday, I would have had an okay time, but I would not have had anyone to share the experience with. Much of the fun of trying out the different wines was sipping them out on the verandah together, talking and laughing and telling stories and discussing our opinions on the different wines. That was where the joy truly came from. Our family visit to the vineyards wasn’t even really about the wine tasting at all — it was about spending time together, enjoying each other’s company, and sharing a fun experience with those we love.

me and gb winery

Now I’m off to soak up more family time before we take my little bro to the airport tomorrow for his new job in NYC! So proud of him! (And I’m going to miss him a TON.)

Hope you are soaking up every beautiful moment of this lovely day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing! ❤

7 things my dad has taught me

Today is my dad’s birthday!

me and daddy

I wish I was home with him to celebrate and give him a ginormous hug and bake him a peanut butter chocolate brownie cake, but that will just have to wait another 10 or so days until I’m home again. {We’re planning to celebrate both his birthday and my birthday a little belatedly this year when we’re all together again!}

bday brownies

In the meantime, in honor of this amazing guy’s birthday, I wanted to share with you 7 important lessons I have learned from my dad. I could have listed 707, but for the sake of brevity I kept it simple. 🙂

7 things my dad has taught me:

1. Find your passion, and follow it. My dad is the reason I became a writer. He is a journalist and author {he will always be my favorite writer!} and when I was growing up, he often wrote his columns from home so he could spend time with my brother and me. I have always loved to read, and soon I began making up my own stories. Dad let me sit on top of the phone book at the kitchen table and type up my stories on his special work computer. I was thrilled — and hooked on writing. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like my dad. I couldn’t {and still can’t!} imagine a better job than spending my days bringing characters to life on the page. Dad has been my cheerleader and supporter for as long as I can remember, and my love of writing is intrinsically connected to my relationship with him. Even when I was a kindergartener, he always took my writing seriously. He helped me find my voice. He taught me to talk through ideas, to stretch my limits, to search for the heart of the story, to edit and edit to make every word count, every word shine. He is still my #1 editor, first reader, go-to brainstormer, and biggest fan.

with dad steinbeck reading

At my Steinbeck Fellows reading last year.

Dad taught me that when you find something you love, that doesn’t feel like “work,” that you daydream about and would do for free because you can’t imagine NOT doing it — that is a true blessing, and not to be taken for granted. It can be difficult and scary to pursue your passion, but it is also a privilege. When I am feeling down or doubting myself, Dad is always there to lift me up and remind me that pursuing my passion for writing, through the good times and the bad, is how I honor my gifts and live a rich and meaningful life that makes me happy. Through his example, he has shown me what it means to follow your passion and devote your time to something that matters to you.

2. Little by little, big things happen. My dad has a passion for writing, and he also has a passion for running. He has run at least three miles every single day for the past 11 years, 10 months, and 24 days. Just thinking about that is overwhelming to me, but Dad insists that when you take it one day at a time, it’s easy. Every single day, you simply lace up your running shoes and get out there. {In fact, he swears getting ready to go run is often the hardest part — once he’s out there, he hits his stride and enjoys it, even on those days he didn’t especially feel like running.} Writing, or whatever your goals are, is the same way: just focus on one day at a time. Books are written one word at a time. Businesses are grown one transaction at a time. Relationships are built one phone call at a time. Little by little, big things happen.

Running-Santa-Clarita-Marathon-720x1024

3. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules. I have always been a natural rule-follower. Maybe it’s because I tend to worry, or just have a cautious personality. I never really had a “rebellious” stage, even as a teenager. However, my dad has taught me that it is important to evaluate rules and that sometimes taking a risk is worth it! One of my favorite memories of this is when I was four years old and Dad took me kite-flying at a park for the very first time. I was so excited! My kite had a rainbow design and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The day was windy, perfect for kite-flying, but soon after we got my kite airborne, a strong gust of wind hit. The string snapped and my beautiful rainbow kite sailed off into a nearby barranca! Dad climbed over a tall fence — not fearing the NO TRESPASSING signs — and climbed a tree to rescue my kite. My hero!

me and daddy

4. Stay curious and always keep learning. Dad is one of the most curious people I know. He is always learning new things: reading books, listening to podcasts, watching PBS documentaries, traveling to new places. The older I get, the more I realize how hard it can be to keep an open mind and to constantly keep adjusting your opinions and views based on new information. Dad is a prime example of someone who is always listening and taking in knowledge, and I admire this about him so much. He is joyfully curious, and I think this is also something that keeps him young!

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

5. By giving to others, you give to yourself. Dad has shown me by example that pursuing your passion goes hand-in-hand with sharing your passion with others. One way to do so is to help give access to other people who may not be able to do what they love. For example, my dad — a longtime sports columnist — has held a Holiday Ball Drive for the past 20 years and has donated thousands of new sports balls to underprivileged kids. He inspired me to start a Holiday Book Drive to collect books to donate to libraries and youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club. He inspired my brother to found a nonprofit organization Give Running that has collected and donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to both domestic programs and third-world countries.

me and greg shoes

My dad also gives to others through small, everyday acts of kindness such as picking up litter when he runs at the park, paying the tab for servicemen and women at restaurants, and giving food to the homeless. He lives by The Golden Rule and has taught my brother and me to do the same. More important than giving is the intention and love behind the gesture; we have learned that by helping others, YOU are truly the one who gets the most out of the experience.

6. Take time to savor the ordinary details, and use “the good china” every day! Dad believes in making every day special, and using those special items — “the good china” — in your everyday life. After all, what are you saving it for? Why have it if not to enjoy and get use out of it? He has also taught me to take the time to recognize and appreciate the small details that make life rich and beautiful. Whether it’s a gorgeous sunset, a happy tail-wagging welcome home from a dog, a hot shower, a cold drink, a fresh-baked cookie, a new-to-you book or movie, a soft pillow, a hug from someone you love… close your eyes, savor and enjoy the details. Don’t just rush through your life. Don’t put off happiness until “someday.” Find something to be happy for and grateful for today!

me and dad

7. Love is the most important thing of all. Show AND tell people that you love them. Every morning, I wake up to a text from Dad wishing me a masterpiece day and saying that he loves me. Every night, he sends me a goodnight text saying he loves me and is proud of me. I never get tired of hearing those words. Growing up, he would write notes on napkins for our lunchboxes every single day. Not only did he tell my brother and me he was proud of us, he showed it by hanging up our awards, displaying our report cards and track ribbons, framing our school artwork. Every school performance, athletic event, book signing, academic competition — he has been there. He even drove 5+ hours each way to surprise me and attend my Steinbeck Fellows reading! When I was in college, Dad drove down to L.A. to have lunch with me every single week. He never complained about traffic; he always made it seem like a joy, rearranging his work schedule so we could have our “lunch dates.” He always has time for us and treats our family as his #1 priority. He is the most thoughtful person I know.

with my boys

Above all else, Dad has taught me that love is the most important thing in this life. It is important to both show those you love how much you love them, and to tell them in words, too. Yes, we *know* how much Dad loves us, but we still love hearing him say it.

And now I want to say it to him, though I hope he already knows: Daddy, I love you more than words can express! Thank you for being my sunshine and for brightening my life every day. It is such a blessing to be your daughter. Happy birthday!!

Happy birthday dad

my piece is on thought catalog!

Hi everyone! Just poppin’ in this morning to share some exciting news with you: I wrote a piece that is up on Thought Catalog! My short essay is about my high school drama class, life’s transience, firsts and lasts. You can read it here.

If you enjoy it, I’d be super grateful if you share it on Facebook, pass it along to your friends, and/or comment at the bottom!

thought catalog essay

Have a masterpiece day!