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?

5 things my brother has taught me {happy birthday, greg!!}

My little brother turns 25 today!!

me and gb kids

I got home yesterday afternoon, and I am so happy I get to be home to celebrate with my fam 🙂 Last night, we had Gramps over for dinner and it was a lovely evening all around. Tonight we are going out for dinner at a restaurant {Greg’s choice!} and I just made a batch of peanut butter cup brownies for dessert.

greg and gramps

Even though he is younger than I am, my brother has always been my role model for living a fulfilling, fun, meaningful, and extraordinary life, rich with the things that truly matter. He is so giving, loving, wise, compassionate, and hilarious. He is my best friend. What a blessing it is to be his sister!

me and gb

My very first memory is the morning he was born 25 years ago today, when I was two and a half. I remember telling my mom, “Call Daddy! Call Daddy!” because my dad was at work and my mom wasn’t feeling very well. {Um, Ma, you were in labor! Haha.} Greg was born a couple weeks early so his birth came as a bit of a surprise. My family jokes that if my mom hadn’t called my dad to come home from work and take her to the hospital, I would have ended up delivering my brother in our living room — he was born that quickly!

Anyway, it makes perfect sense to me that my first memory is the morning Greg was born… because before then, I was just waiting for my best friend to come into the world ❤

me and greg summer

In honor of the amazing impact my brother has had on my life, and on countless other lives, during his quarter-century on this Earth so far, I present to you…

5 things my brother has taught me:

1. Hard work is its own reward; savor the process. Greg is an incredibly hard worker. Just one example: he made it onto the USC track team as a walk-on, and impressed everyone so much with his diligent work ethic and enthusiasm day in, day out, that he ended up being Team Captain his senior year, and an Assistant Coach the year after he graduated. He would be the first to tell you that he was far from the most naturally talented runner on the team. His consistent hard work was what made him a strong runner.

Trojan_Invite_2011

But even more than his amazing work ethic, Greg inspires me by the joy he gets not from results, but from the process of working hard on something that matters to you. When I was sloughing through the muddy middle of my novel, he wrote me this in an email:

Creativity — and all of life — sometimes is like a fallow field that looks like things are slow on the surface, but in reality all that effort is building up richly for next big explosion of energy that everyone else sees and that you’ve known is a continuation of all the consistent hard work and dedication you pour into your craft every day. Keep taking it one step at a time and don’t let any sense of rush or worry take away from the excitement of all the progress you are making on these great gifts that you have already done such work creating to this point.

2. Seize life’s adventures fearlessly. I can be a fearful person, a worrier, a homebody. Greg inspires me to move past my tendency to fret or worry, and to cultivate my sense of adventure. He makes me think of the phrase carpe diem {“Seize the day!”} or of Thoreau’s advice to “suck the marrow out of life.” He has traveled to Mali and Ghana in Africa; Sri Lanka; Thailand; Vietnam; China; Europe; and numerous cities across the U.S. — and he brings back once-in-a-lifetime stories from all his travels. I want to travel with him to Africa one day!

greg camel

3. Find joy in little moments, every day. Greg is a goofball. He makes me laugh all the time. He is the type of person who seeks out joy and creates joy, in little moments, every single day — whether that means having an impromptu dance party, or telling a funny story, or wearing a silly outfit to a football tailgate, or simply taking the time to notice and appreciate a beautiful sunset.

greg dancing julie's wedding

Greg dancing at my cousin Julie’s wedding.

4. Invest in relationships and experiences, not material things. Greg has such a wide network of friends; he is always reaching out and connecting with people. He is a great listener. He always builds people up. We talk on the phone pretty much every night, and no matter how busy he is with schoolwork or final exams, he always makes time to talk to me. He lets the people in his life know that they are important to him.

me and greg little

5. The best gifts are those you give to others. Greg is selfless, always thinking of others ahead of himself — and he has shown me that the act of giving is a beautiful gift you can give yourself. In high school he started a nonprofit organization called Give Running that has donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to disadvantaged youth around the globe. He is passionate about The Girl Effect, blogging frequently about it for the Huffington Post. For Christmas this year, he made a donation to Embrace, an organization that helps serve “preemie” babies in third-world countries, in my honor. He is so thoughtful, kind, and authentically generous. He makes me want to be a better person. He inspires me to strive to be the best version of myself.

greg with chief

Happy birthday, Gregburn! You may be taller than I am, but you will always be my little brother. I love you unconditionally!

me and gb at deck

be the sun, not the wind

In a recent issue of Glamour Magazine, there was an interview with Kiera Knightley, an actress I have always liked {but I like her even more now after reading this interview!} She seemed very down-to-earth, witty and intelligent. I especially loved this story she shares from her mother:

“Remember, you have to be the sun, not the wind.”

(The Glamour interviewer says, “Huh?”)

“You don’t know that story? Okay, the sun and the wind see a man walking down the street, and they have a competition to see which of them can get his coat off first. So the wind blows and blows, and the man just does his coat up tighter. Then the sun simply shines and shines and shines. My mother has sort of lived her life like that, really.”

I think this is so beautiful and true.

be sun not wind

Questions of the evening:

  • How can you be like the sun, rather than the wind?
  • Is there something in your life you are struggling with? What if you took this approach to it instead? What would that look like?

fabulous friday #14

Happy Friday, friends! It’s been a couple weeks since my last fabulous friday post, but I’m happy to be back today. Taking the time to make note of what I love always gets the weekend off on a great note!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Springtime! The weather this week has been absolutely gorgeous, and all the trees are bursting into bloom. Not to mention it staying light out past dinnertime thanks to Daylight Savings — it feels like the transition from winter to summer has officially begun. I love this time of year!

spring tree

2. My friend Kelsey’s laugh. This girl has one of the most beautiful, contagious, joy-filled laughs I’ve ever heard. I talked with her on the phone this morning for the first time in a while, and it was wonderful to hear her voice and her laugh. It’s been a couple hours since we hung up, and I’m still feeling happy from talking to her.

3. Oatmeal with strawberries. All this week I’ve swapped out my usual apple-and-peanut-butter oatmeal for strawberries-and-vanilla-ricemilk oatmeal, and I’m loving it.

strawberry oatmeal

4. Wisdom from some of my favorite bloggers, particularly these posts:

5. This beautiful video {thanks Allyn for sending it to me!}: 20 strangers kiss for the first time

Now I’m off to the gym and to run some errands! Tonight should be a low-key, catch-up-on-New-Girl-episodes kind of night, but this weekend is gearing up to be busy with fun plans. {brunch! birthday celebrations! double date!} I’ll be back on Sunday or Monday with a goals post/recap, but in the meantime I want to leave you with these two quotes that have really been speaking to me lately:

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” -Bertrand Russell

“If you try too carefully to plan your life, the danger is that you will succeed — succeed in narrowing your options, closing off avenues of adventure that cannot now be imagined.” -Harlan Cleveland

Questions for the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?

lessons i’ve learned from living with my grandma

I’ve been living with my grandparents for almost three months now. Daily life with these two full-of-life octogenarians has been such a gift. My grandparents are insightful, intelligent, kind, hard-working, and often hilarious people. And their love for each other warms my spirit.

I’ve learned a lot from watching and listening to my grandma. Here is a woman who graduated from college, earned a Master’s degree in Education while working full-time as a teacher, and also raised four children — often by herself, as my grandpap traveled a lot for his job. She grew up during the Great Depression and WWII and learned from her mother how to live with the utmost frugality. She is the matriarch of our family, always going out of her way to make sure her children and grandchildren are happy and well-fed and comfortable. She talks to her sister every day, keeps up with a wide network of friends, and volunteers her time through various organizations. I’m so proud of the woman she is, and proud to be her granddaughter.

My mom and my grandparents.

My mom and my grandparents.

I thought it would be fun to share some lessons, large and small, that I’ve learned from living with my grandma these past few months. {I’m sure there will be more posts to come on the subject!}

1. Love is more powerfully shown through actions than through words. My grandma isn’t one to say “I love you” all that often. She says she can’t really remember her parents ever telling her they loved her, but she always knew they loved her because of their loving actions. My grandma is always doing kind things for the people she cares about. Yes, I believe it is important to tell the people you love how much you love them, but even more important is backing up those words with loving actions. Without caring gestures and acts of love, the words “I love you” lose their meaning.

2. Always bring a jacket. You never know when the weather’s going to turn, and you don’t want to be cold.

3. Always bring a snack. You don’t want to be hungry. Just stick a granola bar in your purse, at the very least.

4. Get to the show early to get a good seat. My grandma is always the first person at the movie theater, picking the best seat in the house. Often she’ll change her mind two or three times before she finds the seat she wants.

5. The freezer is your friend. My grandma hates wasting food. All leftovers are refrigerated. If she thinks we won’t eat them in time, she’ll put them in the freezer for later. Bread, cakes, cookies, pies — everything can be frozen and resurrected later. The woman wastes nothing. It’s amazing.

6. If you don’t know what to make for dinner, raid your fridge and make soup. You can’t go wrong with a pot of chicken stock and cut-up veggies.

7. Take a walk every day. Every morning, even when her hip is a little sore, she puts on her tennis shoes and goes for a walk around the neighborhood. Even just fifteen or twenty minutes of exercise makes a difference. My grandma also believes in getting your exercise in early, before the craziness of the day sets in.

8. When the weather’s nice, sit outside. If the sun in shining and the breeze isn’t too cold, you can bet you’ll find my grandma outside on the patio, relaxing in her lounge chair, reading the paper or talking to her sister or enjoying an afternoon nap. 

9. Sometimes people are yo-yo heads. Forgive them. My grandma’s favorite term for someone who disappoints is a “yo-yo head.” According to her, we’re all yo-yo heads sometimes. That’s why we have to be patient with each other.

10. Strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet. My grandma is the Queen of Small-Talk, the friendliest person I’ve ever known. She talks to everyone — people waiting behind her at the post office, the barista at Starbucks, the person sitting the next seat over on BART. All the grocery store checkers know her by name. To me, sometimes the world can seem lonely or disconnected, everyone staring at their tiny phone screens or listening to their iPods. But my grandma reminds me every day that the world is a friendly place if you make the effort to be friendly yourself.
me and gma

Question of the morning:

  • What lessons have you learned from your parents or grandparents?

wisdom from “abide with me” by elizabeth strout

abide with me

This weekend, I read Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout — what a beautifully written, poignant, luminous novel! I loved it. The main character, Tyler Caskey, is a minister in a small New England town in the 1950s, and the book explores what happens to him — and his congregation — in the wake of terrible loss. If you’re looking for a good summer read that will make you think, I’d highly recommend this book.

I wanted to share some quotes with you from the novel that really struck me:

“Oh, we are far less important than we thought we were, and we are far, far more important than we think we are. Do you imagine that the scientist and the poet are not united? Do you assume you can answer the question of who we are and why we are here by rational thought alone? It is your job, your honor, your birthright, to bear the burden of this mystery. And it is your job to ask, in every thought, word, and deed: How can love be served?” – pg. 268

“No one, to my knowledge, has figured out the secret to love. We love imperfectly, Tyler. We all do. Even Jesus wrestled with that. But I think — I think the ability to receive love is as important as the ability to give it. It’s one and the same, really.” – pg. 285

elizabeth strout

“I tell stories because life fascinates me, baffles me, intrigues me, awes me. And by writing about the world — the natural, human world — I experience these feelings in a way that makes me both joyous and sad, and that brings me face-to-face with what I believe lies behind the mystery of our existence. I can only hope that readers will not only be entertained by the stories I tell, but be moved to reckon with their own sense of mystery and awe. Through the telling of stories and the reading of stories, we have a chance to see something about ourselves and others that maybe we knew, but didn’t know we knew. We can wonder for a moment if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all.” – pg. 299-300 (Author’s Note)

Have any of you read Abide with Me? What did you think?

What books have you read and loved lately?