family

O-Hi It’s My Trauma

Midway through February I was sitting at my desk, looking up at my Wanderlust calendar, wanting to go somewhere. The vaccine had just started circulating and I wanted to put something on the calendar that might help expedite our wait for the new normal.

Three months later, my sister, my best friend Allison, and I were in the car on our way to Ojai, at last fulfilling that calendar entry, all three of us now vaccinated, restrictions being lifted or laxed quickly, and an undeniable hope that we might actually see the other side of all of this starting to spread.

We had no real plan for the weekend. We were driving up Saturday afternoon and I’d made a reservation at the Topa Mountain Winery for 5:00pm, but we’d left everything else up in the air—as we tend to do.

After checking into our hotel at 3:00pm, we went to the store to pick up some snacks and drinks to have in the hotel room—feeling confident we would want late night salt and sugar—and then fancied up a little before heading out. 

The weather in Ojai left a little heat to be desired, with temperatures staying in the 50s and 60s and the sun only making a brief appearance. But once we settled in at the winery, we didn’t really mind. We each ordered a wine flight, and then decided to split a carafe of the Pixie Cooler (a mix of pixie tangerine juice & sparkling wine, I believe), as well as a box of crackers, which were listed as “palette cleansers”, but we ordered for the sole purpose of snacks. 

When our flights arrived, we raised our first glass—a Rosé—and then rated it based on the scales provided. We chatted. We each had a few crackers. We took a sip of our water. And then we moved on to the next one. A white blend. And so the routine continued.

But then, somewhere between the red blend and the Syrah we started…crying.

Somewhere between the red blend and the Syrah, we were waist deep in conversations we’d never had. Admitting things and sharing stories we’d never told. First putting our sunglasses on to hide the tears, and then putting hands on each other’s shoulders to invite them to fall.  The crackers were finished. The water was emptied. The flights were finished. And then the pixie cooler was brought out and sipped slowly as the stories kept coming, the sun started setting, and the tables around us cleared out.

Before we knew it, we were three of only six people left at the winery and we took a picture to both commemorate the conversations, and laugh at the fact that we’d come to look cute and drink wine, and we’d ended up spending two hours smudging our mascara and unpacking emotional baggage that had long been sealed shut.

From the winery, we went to dinner, where looked at the menu, unable to explain what had just happened. We laughed and talked about what greasy goodness was going to soak up all of our emotions…before we dove right back in.

And then we were there again.

Let me tell you, it is something special to put all your secrets on the table, at a place called The Deer Lodge, while binge eating sweet potato fries and forgetting that absolutely anyone else exists.

I’ve often whispered secrets, desperate for no one else to hear. I’ve emailed or texted them, written them down in a journal, hidden them in blog posts or fictional stories, and buried them as deep as they can go. But it’s quite a thing to hear them out loud. To watch them lose their power right before your eyes, or to hear yourself say things that remind you you’re stronger and smarter than you once were. To hear you stand up for yourself, and to let your friends poke holes in the lies you’ve long believed. To just let go of the weight you’ve been carrying around, convinced you had to bear it all on your own.

The next day we woke up and went out to breakfast, the conversation lighter, but not awkward, strained or regretful. We walked to a popular bookstore (Bart’s Books) and popped in and out of local shops, all while knowing that something had changed. That we were lucky. That in all the craziness that has been this year, last year, and all the years before, we’d stuck together, and we’d arrived together, here, this weekend, to let each other be heard and known and understood and undeniably accepted for who we are and where we’ve come from.

All those months ago, we wanted a weekend getaway. But we got so much more than that.

Unit 25

It was the back door. The way you had to twist the knob halfway to the right, then pull, then twist it again in order for everything to click into place when you locked it. Getting that down was part of making the place feel like home. Like you belonged. Because you knew the trick.

After a while, everything became familiar, and every quirk became common as we began to know our house inside and out, thus making it our own.  

Our house became the go-to spot on Mondays, when The Bachelor would be on and I would hustle inside from my evening yoga class, saying, “hi,” to friends on the couch who were ready to catch up and half watch, half talk over the ridiculous television drama.

Our backyard became the place where my sister could pull weeds beside my dad, preparing the soil for seasonal flowers and vegetables, hopeful they’d bring some relief to her busy work schedule and upcoming grad school exams.

Our upstairs hallway became the place where we could stand at our respective bedroom doorways, rehashing the events of the day, whether it was good, bad, or entirely unbelievable. It was where a rogue feather from a newly cleaned down comforter always landed, where the quietness of the morning was broken up by hurried feet charging out the door, and where communal decisions on shoes, sweaters, hair and makeup could be made.

Our dining room table became the place where we updated our collective wall calendar and where ate Jack-in-the-Box tacos at midnight, hoping to avoid the hangover. It became a place where we played board games with cousins visiting from out of town, sometimes laughing so hard our stomachs hurt, and where we threw anything that didn’t have a defined place into “the mug” that sat in the center.

Our kitchen became the place where potluck meals came together, and where drinks were mixed, and shots were taken after hard days. It became the place where cookbooks were propped up, followed closely, and inevitably stained with oil, butter and spices, where a week’s worth of breakfasts were prepped on Sunday nights, and where my sister made her famous chocolate chip cookies for every holiday and celebration you could imagine.

Our living room recliners became the place where my sister and I sat side by side, to eat dinner, talk, vent, do homework, watch TV, play a video game, laugh, cry, and wonder where life was going to take us next.

Laying in my bed on our last night in the house, I looked up at the skylight in my ceiling, taking note of the small handful of stars that had always seemed to watch over me. I turned on my left side to look at my window, remembering all the afternoons after work when I’d lay there and watched the setting sun turn my room golden orange. I looked at the pictures, paintings, and shelves on the wall, each of which went up in their own time, with their own set of frustrations, and their own purpose, story or memory. I thought of the pacing I’d done on our very first night in the house, the frantic energy that had come with the newfound freedom of living on my own, and the growing panic that I might not know how. And then I turned on my right side, the side I always fall asleep on, the side I’d often lay, praying, crying, reading, or watching a movie—sometimes far later into the night than I intended. I lay on my right side, unable to remember every single thing I’d learned during these last six years, but overtly aware that I’d been changed for the better.

I was leaving this house, but I was taking it with me. We were starting a new adventure, but those we had here would never be too far away. So when we packed up the house the next day, trucks loaded with furniture, clothes, and boxes and boxes of little things, I turned off all the lights and then locked all the doors—leaving a few extra seconds for that back one, to do a final twist, pull, twist, and click.

It Had Been a While

I’ve been to quite a few weddings. I’ve also been in quite a few weddings. And while they are all unique in their own wonderful ways, they are also very similar—running through the same routines, the same schedule of events and the same (at least in my case) excited yet patient wait at your table for your free dessert to arrive.

That being said, I love weddings. I love the fancy dresses, I love the dancing, I love the love, and this past weekend I was reminded of all of this when I went to a wedding where COVID played a (big and chaotic) part in the planning—but failed to ruin the magic.

It had been a little while since I’d been in a wedding. Since I’d gotten all dolled up beside a bride, talking, laughing and watching as her hands shook in excitement. It had been a while since I’d stood up at the front of the ceremony, watching the groom watch the bride, trying to hold back the tears that were threatening to ruin my makeup. It had been a while since I’d been able to just stop—to forget about everything else going on in the world and watch two people promise to love each other for better or for worse, and then wave my bouquet in the air, cheering, as a minister said, “you may kiss the bride!” It had been a while since I sat and listened to heartfelt speeches from a best man and maid of honor, that make you laugh and make you cry, and then ask you to raise your glass and celebrate something wonderful life has done.  It had been a while since I felt that hope. That little spark of optimism that surfaces when you see love so obviously in front of you, in the teary eyes of the couple, dancing together for the first time, in the proud smiles of the parents, thankful to see their children so happy, and in the giddy, excited laughs of the bridal party, cheering and chanting from their seats.

It had been a while.

But it felt good to be back.

A Lactose Free Poem for Your Birthday [Repost]

In honor of my sister’s birthday tomorrow, I thought I’d bring back this post. I originally posted it in 2015, back when we were sharing a room at our parents’ house, when I was just starting to post consistently on my blog, and when the world was really obsessed with infinity scarves.

I thought about changing a couple of the lines to make it more current, but I kind of like seeing how much has changed (in good and hard ways) and how far we’ve come. She was my person then and she’s my person now, so here’s hoping this poem can ring in her birthday with a smile.

Happy birthday Natallee!


Natalee my Natalee,

I hope you like this rhyme from me

You’re used to them by now I’d think

So enjoy this one and down a drink

Not too many though because I don’t like barf

I loathe barf like you love a good scarf

Which is why we have 57 in our closet

Okay not really, 58 if I’m honest.

Sometimes I think about burning them all

But don’t worry I’ll at least hold out until fall

.

Today is a day when we celebrate you

A day that I’ve celebrated since I was two

That year was rough, when you arrived on the scene

Before that there was just brown hair, brown eyes, just me.

But I suppose you ended up being pretty cool, slightly valuable

Beautiful actually, smart, compassionate and admirable

One of the only people in the world to always make me happy

And to infuriate me to no end when we’re feeling cross and sassy.

But that’s a rarity now since we’re both essentially flawless

Always wondrous, always mature, never strange, unintelligible and lawless.

.

You’ve listened to every song that I’ve wrote about our dog

And every whiny jingle on why I won’t go for a jog

You listen to the sighs, the cries and the rants,

You let me crank up our music and dance around with no pants

You’ve made me laugh too many times to count

And made me proud an intangible amount

You’ve seen me through it all and so many would agree

You fought through some of the hardest times and come out beautifully free

.

So remember on this day as I thank you for your you-ness

That I say it with a sincerity and a gratefulness of the truest…

…nature, but not the kind with all the trees and the bugs

More the kind with all the cheesy, sentimental, tear jerking hugs

So eat cake (without eggs) and ice cream (without dairy)

That way your birthday can be diarrhea free and quite merry.

.

Love you!

Red Heart on Apple iOS 14.2

My Year in Pictures (List-cember #7)

One of the more obscure goals I set for myself in 2020 was to make an “emotion scrapbook.” My idea was to try and create a more accurate depiction of my year, by taking pictures when I felt a wide range of emotions, rather than just when I was happy, excited, or in need of making people jealous with whatever dessert I just ordered.  I wanted to take pictures when I was sad, when I was angry, etc., to try and remember those days and honor them.

As it turns out, it is simply not my first instinct to take pictures when I’m feeling those kinds of emotions. Often I turn to writing instead, whether it is in the form of a blog post, a few pages scribbled in my journal, or a run-on sentence in the Notes app on my phone. That being said, with this goal in the back of my mind, I did make a conscious effort to take more pictures this year. Whenever I got that I should take a picture of this feeling, I tried to roll with it. And as a result, I got a pretty wide range of photos that tell the story of this crazy year.

Here are some of my favorites:

1) The Band

On one of the very first weekends of the year, my family drove up to visit our cousins at the beach. That Friday night, my sister, my cousin, Taryn, and I casually decided to learn a Tik-Tok dance before we went to bed, but ended up staying up until 2:00 a.m. choreographing our own music video. To this day no one can figure out how it progressed to that, but it was by far one of my favorite nights of the whole year.

2) Kobe

Kobe’s death rocked the world, but it especially hit hard in Los Angeles, where so many fans gathered in front of the Staples Center to pay tribute to a man who had been the hero of their city. My family and I went to pay our respects and to see these murals that were set outside for fans to sign. It was an incredibly moving sight.

3) Persimmons

I took this photo at a farmer’s market I volunteered at in February. Dried persimmons are hard to find, but they are also my mom’s favorite, so when I asked a vendor if she had any and she opened up this absolute treasure chest, I audibly gasped and took a picture.

4) The Quarantine Collection

Never would I ever have guessed I’d spend so many hours on Zoom and Facetime this year, but I swear that friend and family time is what made those lonely, blurry months of quarantine bearable.

5) Home Gym

My brother is an avid rock climber, so when lockdown kept him home, he had to get creative with ways to both keep himself busy and in shape. I’m not sure if I dared him to do this or if he just suggested he could and I followed closely behind him with my camera for proof, but either way, I got the shot.

6) Cousin Quarantine Olympics

One summer weekend, my brother, sister and I met our cousins up in the mountains for a little quarantined getaway and decided to hold the first ever Cousin Quarantine Olympics. This was a heated, neck in neck competition that included games like, who can build the best Jenga tower? and who can move an Oreo from their forehead to their mouth—using only their face—the fastest? I did not make the podium.

7) The beach

This picture was taken on a Saturday evening spent at the beach. On a whim we decided to drive up and watch the sunset and it turned into such a fun, easy day, where for a little while I felt like everything was going to be okay. (I wrote this blog post about it.)

8) Backyard Dinners

This was taken in the backyard of my friends Rachel & Dylan’s house, where we spent many a socially distanced evening hanging out, talking, grilling burgers, and watching the Dodger game. They even hosted a small, COVID friendly, backyard movie night for my birthday in September, which was incredibly lovely and wonderful. 

9) Neo

June was a bit of a rough month for my family, with a lot of things moving in a lot of different directions and a lot of questions not being answered. This picture was taken in a brighter moment at the beginning of July, on a night we drove to the beach in hopes of catching a glimpse of the comet Neowise.

10) Defeated

I was barely able to take this very strange, blurry picture of my sister because I was giggling so much. And while this exact moment of the day can bring a smile to my face, the day as a whole was a tough one. I remember telling my sister as we sat in our living room chairs that I “just felt defeated from minute one.” It seemed like every hard thing from the day, the year, my life, everything was weighing on my shoulders that day and I felt so heavy and stressed and overwhelmed. I wasn’t really ready to talk about it, mostly because I was afraid if I started I might burst into tears, but I was in need of some company. So, that night my sister and I ordered two pizzas and two bottles of wine and we sat in our living room—each drinking our respective wine straight from the bottle—and watched a movie.

11) Celebrity

This photo never fails to make me smile. Mostly because I think it looks like I squeezed in to take a picture with a celebrity who was trying to fly under the radar, but also because it is very unlike me to have volunteered to take this picture. I rarely, if ever, take “selfies” and, (not so) fun fact, I was just getting over an eye infection and was still unable to wear eye makeup. Nevertheless, I was having a good day and was cracking up at this makeshift mask my cousin put on before we stepped in to a restaurant to order takeout.

12) The Notch

I took this while sitting in a fold up chair, fishing in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. This mini getaway was one of the only bits of traveling I did for the year and to be honest, as I sat in that chair, I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the room I had to think and digest the happenings of the year. (I wrote a little bit about it in this blog.)

13) Solvang Waterfall

While on my dad’s birthday trip to Solvang in November, we went on a small hike to a waterfall. And while the waterfall itself was skinny and slow moving, the view around it was beautiful!

14) The Jump

When in 2020, baby showers are required to be small and safe. Which is why one Friday evening my sister and I blew up tons of balloons to host a part of four (including the mom to be). It was such a nice, relaxing evening that included a small photoshoot that was made possible by self-timer and a ladder that we dragged in from the garage. This blurry, chaotic mess of a jumping picture is by far one of my favorite pictures of the bunch.

15) Baking Cookies

One of the best parts of this year was my baby cousin Easton being born in June, and one of the best parts of this holiday season was getting to meet him for the very first time! Usually in December we have a family cookie baking day where a big group of us gets together and bakes recipes that have been passed down for generations, but this year was the first year in my entire life that we had to cancel. And while it was heartbreaking, we exchanged pictures back and forth, showing we were making the recipes at home, keeping the tradition alive until we can all see each other again next year. At my parents’ house, we introduced Easton to our holiday tradition, and even tried our hand at making handprint (or salt dough) ornaments. I think he thought we were nuts, but they turned out really cute.


Check out more List-cember posts here.

2020 Goals Wrap Up (List-cember #6)

It’s safe to say that many of the goals I set for 2020 were compromised by COVID and the corresponding shutdowns. But I also did my best to adapt and set milestones for myself that helped me see through the blur of quarantine and remain calm during the chaos of the year. So while this goal recap is a little different than those of years past, it still makes me proud and excited to see what I accomplished this year. Let’s have a look!

1) Kick a field goal

I’m considering this one pending, as there is still time left in this year and I think my cousins and I might be able to sneak this one in over the next couple weeks.

2) Learn Spanish – she’s on a roll!

This was a continuation goal from 2019, and I must say, if you are looking for a fun way to challenge yourself, I highly recommend downloading Duolingo and learning a new language. I was delighted to receive a “year in review” report that showed me I spent over 1618 minutes (which is almost 27 hours) learning Spanish. Obviously this goal is still far from being completed, but I’ve learned a ton this year and am excited to learn more!

3) Do a pullup changed to finish the ciabatta workouts almost done!

I’ve had “do a pullup” on my list for a couple years now. And while I could blame my lack of progress on the fact that gyms were closed for most of the year, if I’m being honest, I’ve also just lost interest in it. I think I saw doing unassisted pullups as an overarching mile marker of upper body strength, but doing things like yoga has shown me there are many different ways to strengthen your body—looking at you chaturanga—and many ways to feel strong. Thus, I decided to change this goal to finishing all eight “ciabatta” workouts my friend Mel created (that I mentioned in this post). They are hard, but in a good way and they always leave me feeling exhausted and convinced that I am made of pure muscle, stamina, and greatness. Six down, two to go!

4) Volunteer (at least) 5 times – completed!

I am very pleased to say that even amongst the restrictions, I was able to achieve this goal! After volunteering with one of my favorite Southern California nonprofits, Food Forward, in February, the months of quarantine and lockdown brought the opportunity to volunteer at my church, which ran a weekly drive-thru food drive for families in need. I felt very lucky to be a part of it!

5) Write 5 positive Yelp reviews – completed!

As someone who is a big reader of reviews but a rare writer of reviews, I wanted to start doing my part. And so, in the few new places I was able to visit and/or order from this year, I made sure to write them a review.

6) Donate plasma changed to give blood – completed!

A couple years ago I made it a goal to give blood, and then this year I wanted to take the next step and donate plasma. But while I did the research, I will admit, after many months in quarantine, I lost my nerve. However, this past week I made an appointment and gave blood with no problem, so I am going to try and work my way back up to plasma next year.

7) 30 Day Cleaning challenge – completed!

When I am stressed, I clean. So needless to say, there is absolutely nothing in my house that I did not clean this year.

8) Savings challengecompleted-ish!

It could also be said that when I’m stressed I online shop. Because when the world is falling apart around you, maybe a soft hoodie can help, you know? So while I did allocate money into savings, it wasn’t as much as I anticipated, but I just feel lucky to have had the opportunity to keep my job and continue to make money, so that is all I’m saying on that.

9) Purchase one charity t-shirt per month completed!

This was a fun goal and one that I enjoyed researching each month. I will admit, I did take some creative liberties and at times bought things other than t-shirts, like hoodies or hats, but it was fun knowing that I was buying something for a good cause. I’ve linked those that are still available 😊

10) Pay it forward

I actually found this one surprisingly difficult, mostly because I tended to order in rather than drive-thru. But I tried to make up for it in other ways, often noting when I had left over change that I didn’t need or could spare to tip someone more than was recommended.

11) Take a self-defense class

This one will have to be put on the backburner for now, but I am still interested in it.

12) Go to (at least) 5 concerts

*sighs*

13) Take a writing classcompleted!

As I mentioned in this post, I took a class through UCLA Extension and was thrilled with it. It was amazing to be challenged in my writing and to have a reason to really dig in and write about things that I might otherwise not have. I’m very excited to take my next class this January!

14) Go to 5 breweries changed to go to 5 breweries or wineries

Among the varying waves of COVID restrictions, I was able to find wineries with friends and family that were safely open for outside tastings. These made up some of my favorite memories of the year and were such a nice taste of normalcy. I went to:

  1. Barrelhouse Brewery
  2. Rava Winery
  3. Peachy Canyon Winery
  4. Brickbarn Winery
  5. Lucas & Lewellen Winery

15) Go to a comedy show

This was another one that simply wasn’t possible this year, but hopefully will be soon!

16) The Emotion Scrapbook – completed-ish!

This one turned less into a “scrapbook” and more into a renewed dedication to document things that mattered to me. I made a conscious effort to do better at taking more pictures this year, even if it meant being the person saying, “hold on, hold on” which often makes me uncomfortable. As a result, in this Thursday’s List-cember post, I have a list of my favorite pictures I took this year—one of which involved my brother hanging upside down by his toes in my parents’ backyard, which is surely not one of my mom’s favorite photos.

17) Make a time capsule

I think when I wrote this goal I had thoughts of marking the start of a new decade, the start of my 30’s, etc. I had no idea what was to come. But now I’m more motivated than ever to make a little time capsule, as this year is one beyond belief, and one that, in 10 years will (hopefully) be far behind us and worth reflecting on. So in these last couple weeks of the year I’m going to pull together some things that represent 2020, showcase where I’m at in my life, allude to the state of the world, etc., and in 10 years I’ll be able to see how far we’ve all come.  


Check out more List-cember posts here.

Things I’m Excited to See Again (List-cember #4)

While things are very much still tough, and the approach of the new year doesn’t have so much magic as it does desperate hope for something better, I am trying my best to think about the good things. It’s unclear when life will go completely back to “normal” or when we will be able to do all that we love and miss again, but we will get there one day. And when we do, these are some of the things I’m excited to see:

1) People walking to school

I’m excited see young kids, with backpacks hanging low on their shoulders, almost shadowing their entire frame, holding the hands of their parent or grandparent or older sibling as they make their way across the street towards the gates of their school. I’m excited to see high schoolers, walking in groups laughing or alone thinking, sitting in their cars wondering or opening up their lockers hoping that today will be a good day. And I’m excited to see college students, walking both lazily and with purpose, in sweatpants and suits, barely making it to class or betting their entire future on it.

2) Full cars

I’m excited to see cars full of families, silhouetted heads moving this way and that, with suitcases piled high on the roof, bikes strapped to the back, or a trailer being pulled behind. I’m excited to wonder where they’re going, if it’s a weekend getaway, a cross country road trip, or perhaps a new house, to start a new life in a new city. 

3) Smiles

I’m excited to see the big, face changing smiles, the small, polite ones, the unexpected, undeniable ones, the shy, nervous ones, and the ones that connect you to a stranger as you both shake your head as a way to say, can you believe this guy? I’m excited to see smiles freshly whitened, smiles made of braces, and smiles with teeth missing and awaiting reward from the tooth fairy. Most of all I’m excited to stop avoiding eye contact simply because I’m afraid my mask will hide my smile and my sunglasses will hide my eyes, making it impossible for me to let someone know that I hope they have a good day.

4) Sports fans jumping from their seats

I’m excited to see stadiums packed with people, sitting side by side, on the edge of their seats, hoping for a big play, a big moment, and doing their best to cheer and rally their fellow fans. I’m excited to see them stand, and to stand with them, clapping and chanting and tapping their team’s name across the fronts of their jerseys. I’m excited to see that big moment happen, and to hear the gasps and excitement and energy rip through the entire stadium, bringing everyone to their feet, hugging and high fiving.

5) My whole family—up close and personal

I’m excited to be able to stand with my arm around a cousin or my head on the shoulder of an aunt, or to sit right next to my grandpa and watch a baseball game. I’m excited to eat chips from the same bowl and dip them in our family’s homemade guacamole, to swap Christmas cookies and cheers late night drinks. I’m excited to plan each and every annual family gathering, to catch up and share stories, take group pictures and spend way too long hugging each other as we try to say goodbye.

6) Movie previews

I’m excited to walk into a theater right before the room goes dark, and to look over at my sister and guess how many previews are going to play before the movie—I always guess four. I’m excited to whisper things like, “that looks good” or “I’ve been waiting for this!” or “what on earth is that?” And I’m excited to finish whatever snack I brought or bought before the previews even end, and not feel mad or sad, but content and prepared to sink into my seat and watch a movie on the big screen.

7) “OPEN” signs

I’m excited to drive around town, hungry or bored, or just in the mood to explore and see all the restaurants and stores and gyms and parks and churches and salons and bookstores and museums open and ready for business. Ready to welcome customers and families and people looking to try something new or return to something they love. I’m ready to watch people hold the door for each other, to eavesdrop on what other people are buying or ordering or talking about, to spy on the cute boy at the gym or look over at the person typing furiously on their keyboard in a coffee shop. I’m excited for the world to open back up, for people to open back up, and for the hope and unity we’ve been struggling to find over this last year to finally, truly, bring us together into the new normal.  


Check out more List-cember posts here.

My Favorite Ornaments on My Tree (List-cember #1)

Hello and happy December List-cember to you! I have made it a tradition on my blog that in December every post is centered around lists, and here we are again, in year five!

You can check out some of the previous List-cember posts here, otherwise let’s get started!

If I’m being honest, alongside my sister, I broke every rule this year. We watched our first Christmas movie before Halloween and had our Christmas decorations up by the first week of November—but can you blame us? There’s just something special about Christmas time and all the goodness that comes with it, and this year we were in a hurry to get to all that good stuff.

Usually during List-cember I give out “superlatives” to the many ornaments in my life, but this year, after having spent so many months isolated from family, friends and all things “normal”, I just wanted to highlight some of my favorites.  These are the ornaments that make me smile and give me hope that good years with good memories and even more good ornaments to commemorate them are ahead of us.

1) The Burrito

Ornaments are meant to highlight people and things that you love, right? Well one thing my family can agree on—almost every time we order-in for dinner—is burritos. My sister likes to joke (even though she’s serious) that she has Chipotle on speed dial, but our burrito backlog goes far beyond the local chain. So for a time of year when so many other foods and food groups reign supreme, I love having an ode to burritos up there on our tree, reminding us that yes, you should order-in tonight, you deserve it.  

2) The Fireplace

Some of my favorite ornaments on my parents’ tree are those with family names handwritten on snowmen, stockings, Santa hats, etc., so when I saw this ornament a couple years ago, I couldn’t resist bringing it home and making one of my own. And with our roommate Rachel moved out into a new house now, this ornament is even more special, as it now commemorates the time we all lived together, which is full of so many happy memories.

3) Yoga Santa

I love me some yoga, and I got even more into it this year during quarantine. Yoga Santa reminds me to relax, and to stop stressing—because compared to a guy who has to deliver presents to the entire world in one night, how big could my problems really be?

4) New York

Last year my family took a trip to New York for a whirlwind weekend to see the New York Giants play. It was only a few months before the world took a turn for the ‘rona and is one of the last times I remember being out and about without a mask on. So while I look at this ornament longingly for a time before 2020, I also look at it with the hope that one day this will all be behind us.

5) The Shark

My roommates and I nabbed this guy when I signed us up for a bar crawl a few years back. He came in our gigantic fishbowl of a drink and, me being the sentimental being that I am, stuck him in my purse to keep forever. For reasons lost to time (and alcohol) we named him “Timothy Bruce Henry” and he might be the only homemade shark ornament I’ll ever encounter.

6) Candy Cane

These are a staple on my grandma and grandpa’s tree that were handmade by my grandma herself. And not to paint myself as a thief, but (along with shark) I also stole this. But it was from my grandparents’ house and they have lots of extras and definitely would have freely given it to me if I asked—so it’s only, like, half stolen.

7) Michael Strahan

As a Giants fan you can’t not like Michael Strahan. And as a loyal Giants fan, you can’t not look at this ornament and feel desperately nostalgic for a time when you were a Superbowl champion. *sigh*

8) Jameson Distillery

For the longest time it was my sister’s dream to go to Ireland, and in 2016, we were able to make that happen. Then, in June of last year, we were able to go back—and even visit London and Paris too!—to show our family the place we’d fallen in love with, which made it all the more incredible. This ornament is from one of our favorite places, and where, without shame, we all got a little buzzed at 10:00 a.m. on a weekday morning.  

9) Turtledove

Similar to the candy cane, this ornament has special meaning as it came from my grammie and papa’s tree. You’ll be happy to know I didn’t steal this one, though I might say I did, just to up my street cred. Because as we all know, stolen turtledove ornaments are worth infinite street cred.

10) Cheeseburger Topper

While tradition is key during this time of year and one might expect to see a star or an angel at the top of the tree, we consistently and unabashedly put this cheeseburger with legs on top. I can’t tell you why or when it started, only that it is strange and glorious and weirdly normal at this point. It makes me smile every time I see it, and especially every time someone comes over and takes brief moment to pause and ask, tentatively, “is that–is that a cheeseburger?

The Solvang Postcard

In the fall of my senior year of college—which as I type this I realize was nine years ago, YIKES—I studied abroad in Australia. While there, one of my absolute favorite things was to write and receive letters from friends and family back home.

I love mail in general, but being a whole continent away and receiving things from the people I loved back home not only made the first few weeks easier to adjust, but made the remaining five months all the more fun. I was practically a regular at the post office, and there was an entire drawer of my desk filled with envelopes, stamps, and handwritten letters that I still have to this day.

One that stood out was a postcard from my grandpa. “You’re not the only world traveler!” the note on the back started, “Grandma and I went to Denmark. Played golf & ate at Anderson’s Split Pea Soup Restaurant. Quite a trip – took 1hr & 15min each way. Saw lots of Danish shops & houses. Took 3 days so we were exhausted when we got home. Love you bunches – Gma & Gpa”

Maybe it was the startling opening of my grandparents being in “Denmark”, maybe it was the note explaining it had taken them one hour and 15 minutes to get there—from California—or maybe it was just because I hadn’t head of Solvang before, but I never forgot this postcard. It made me smile thinking about my grandma and grandpa on vacation, golfing and exploring this strange and—judging by the pictures on the front of the postcard—very cute town.

A few years later, after my grandma passed away, this postcard became even more sentimental. I felt like it was a tangible memory from their marriage and of the life they lived together—a little piece that they wanted to share with me, that I could have forever. And so just as I kept the postcard, I kept a constant curiosity about Solvang—wondering what it would feel like to stand where they stood all those years ago. And this past weekend, I finally got the chance.

To celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, our family of five spent the weekend in Solvang. We walked around and saw all the Danish shops and houses, we ate split pea soup at Anderson’s, and though we didn’t play golf, we did go wine tasting and feed some ostriches. (Yes, you read that right.)

We did Solvang our way, just as my grandma and grandpa had done it their way. And even though our trips were almost a decade apart, I still felt like they were right there with me. I still looked for the two of them walking down the street up ahead of me, and imagined them sharing split pea soup in the booth next to us.

Being where they had been made the postcard come to life, and caused it to hit me in a different way. It made me sad knowing that when my grandpa wrote that note to me, none of us had any idea we’d be losing grandma less than a year later. It made me wonder and worry about what might be coming in this decade to follow my own trip to Solvang. But then, it also made me think again about their trip. About the forethought they had to grab a postcard for me, one of their 11 grandkids and 3 great-grandchildren (at the time), and about how much that said about them and the love they had for each and everyone of us. It made me happy to think that they went on this trip and so many others, building their lives together and sharing it with us.

On our last day in Solvang, I grabbed a small, souvenir windmill that is now sitting on my desk. Maybe one day someone will ask me about it and I will pull out the postcard to explain where it all started. Maybe that will inspire another generation to take that trip, and as they walk down the streets and eat split pea soup they’ll look for me just as I looked for my grandma and grandpa, and just like that we’ll all be together again.

This Post Was Brought to You By Amy Grant

The living room is empty.

My dad is at work and my mom is in the other room, maybe cleaning or reading or talking on the phone.

I am eight years old, and I am in the mood to dance.

I sift through the CDs on the shelf, press the power button on the stereo, and open the tray of the seven disk CD player that I have already flagged as something I need in my own house when I grow up.

Amy Grant’s The Collection goes in the disc one spot. I turn off shuffle.

I hear the CD start to spin and I wait, wiggling my toes on the large oval rug where I usually spend my Saturday mornings hunched over my favorite yellow controller playing Zelda on the N64. The moment the music starts, I skip to track seven. Then I scoot back to the center of the room and place my hands in front of my face—my fingers spread wide.

The opening notes start and I wait, holding my pose, until Amy Grant starts to sing Emmaaaannnn-uel, upon which I start moving my hands up and down and around my face, assuming I look as poised and mysterious as the high level contemporary dancers at my dance studio—while in reality I probably looked like I was trying to swat a fly away from my face in slow motion.

When the chorus hits, I throw my hands in the air and jump around, singing my heart out, free, though never distracted enough to miss the next round of Emaaannnn-uel’s and their corresponding hand choreography.

When the song ends, I consider starting it again, but then skip forward to track 11, like always. There is no choreography to this song, just slow swaying around the room. I hold my hands out in front of me as if I’m dancing with someone, and move from the living room to the dining room and back, unaware (and unfazed) that a good portion of the song is in Hebrew.

As the last few notes fade out, I return to the rug, preparing for my big finish. I Have Decided comes blasting through the speakers and I begin to march around, agreeing with Amy with animated fingers that point to the ceiling. I close my eyes and wave my fists, willing her words, her decisions to be true for me too, and it makes me feel grown up. At the end of the song, I walk over and turn down the music, then lay down on our green couch.

The next song starts and I bob my head but I don’t stand up. I turn over on my side and look at the doorway leading to the hall. I know that if I turn left through that door I’ll find my baby brother’s room and the room I share with my sister, and if I turn right I’ll find my mom and dad’s room, where I’d spent last Sunday night sleeping on the floor because I had a nightmare. But I don’t move, I just lay there for a while, bobbing my head without a care in the world, already wanting to start the CD—or my version of it—over again.