family

Lake Hair

“Hold on to your hats,” Natalee says as we float past the no wake zone.

Will revs the engine and then punches forward. The boat shoots across the water, the wind beating at our faces. At first, it’s hard to keep my eyes open. I feel like I’m swallowing too much air. I hold onto my (literal) hat, nervous a gust of wind might swipe it off the top of my head.

We ride around the lake looking at the hills, at the pops of green trees, at the cars driving by on the freeway above us. We curve into alcoves, looking for a place to beach the boat, all while listening to country music at full blast, nodding our heads, smiling to each other, looking forward to the day.

A half hour later, we’re in beach chairs, freshly sunscreened up, eating burgers and fruit and cheers-ing canned drinks, settling into the unplugged, independent nature of a lake day. I wade into the water on my tiptoes, flapping my arms.

“It’s cold!”

But only for a minute.

We talk about everything and nothing, and the hours melt away.

We get back on the boat and then glide out onto the water.

It’s 85 degrees, the sky is a solid blue, there is not even one cloud. My bathing suit is red, my shoulders are pink, and my hair is flying in all directions.

The boat turns and wind whips at my face. When I lift up my arms, they fly, weightless. The music blares through the speakers. I bob my head and sing loudly, knowing the sounds of the boat will drown out my voice.

We skim over wakes and spray lake water to either side as we turn. We wave to other boats and we yell as loud as we can. We are free on the water, in the sunshine, on our Saturday. The wind blows the burdens off our shoulders, allowing us to just exist in the moment, on this boat, on this day.

We are alive, and light, and happy. We are together. It’s a hard feeling to describe in words, but it is easily shared in the excited whoops and hollers. We smile and we take pictures. We record as much footage as we can. But we know it’s not something other people will be able to see or feel, not unless they were here. Not unless they understood the heaviness that was being turned into lightness. Not unless they felt the sun warm them and the water cool them, over and over and over. Not unless they felt the wind lift their arms up into the air and hold them there, taking the weight, taking the pressure.

We cruise back into the no wake zone and our hair settles on our shoulders. It’s knotted and slimy from the lake water, it’s going to hurt to brush. But when I wash it, the hot water doesn’t take the day with it. It does little to wash away the feeling on the boat, at the lake, on that Saturday. Somehow I think it just scrubs it deeper.

The Green Couch

After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, my family got a new couch.

It was green and had a plaid pattern with patches of light brown, and wood paneling on the corners. The couch sat a few feet from the front door, aimed at the television. On each side, there was a black button that made the seats recline.

When I was seven, I tip-toed up to the couch, where my mom sat holding my new baby brother.

“Gentle,” my dad said, both in reference to the baby and my mom.

I put my hand on the arm of the couch and scratched nervously at the textured fabric. I smiled at my mom and she smiled back.

Just before I turned ten, my family moved into a new house in a new neighborhood. The couch came with us. It pointed at the same television, but in a different room, close to a different front door. With a recliner chair beside it for my dad, there was enough room on the couch for me, my mom, my sister, and my brother to all sit on it, and we did, with arms and legs tangled, heads on shoulders and in laps. We’d shuffle through our collection of VHS tapes, each of us taking a turn to choose which one we watched.

When one of us was sick, we’d sit on the end closest to the bathroom, with a washcloth on our head, an empty bowl on the floor beside us, and a cup of water or Gatorade on the coffee table. At the end of a long night of homework, we’d plop down on the couch and sigh, exhausted. In the mornings, we’d watch cartoons. Dad kissed mom goodbye before Dragontales, and we knew that if we weren’t out the door before the end of Clifford the Big Red Dog, we were going to be late. After school, Troy took a nap on the couch with his thumb in his mouth, and Natalee and I leaned up against it playing Mario Party on our Nintendo 64.

When I was in middle school, my family moved again, and again the couch came with us. But when we upgraded to a new one, the couch was moved into the family cabin in the mountains, where it stayed for almost a decade. It sat just below the window in the living room, inviting anyone who visited to take a seat. In a pinch, it was used for a bed. And many late weekend nights were spent falling asleep on it to the same collection of VHS tapes that had followed it up the mountain.

Recently, a new set of furniture was moved into the cabin. It is newer and more comfortable, and provides more seating for the growing number of family members that visit. Not to mention it’s a matching set. As a result, the green couch was loaded up and brought down the mountain, and then set out on the curb and marked with a price tag: “Free.”

The sight of it startled me.

To see it outside of a house, outside of our home, felt wrong. And even though I knew we were willingly giving it away, the thought of someone taking it still felt like a robbery. I braced myself for the day I’d find the curb empty, for when someone else would claim it as their own.

I kept waiting for a truck to pull up with a family inside, or maybe a couple or a parent or a single person starting over, grateful for the opportunity to take this couch and put it in their living room. I thought maybe they’d feel everything we’d put into the couch, that they’d notice how we’d broken in the cushions by cuddling and climbing and, occasionally, jumping. I wondered if they’d understand the life the couch had lived before they started writing their own stories with it. But that’s not what happened.

One day, I walked outside and saw a man get out of a large truck. His flashers were on and he blocked half of the road. The bed of his truck had five or six couches standing on their sides, each of them looking dirty and old. With gloves on his hands, he lifted the couch up and threw it in with the others. It was painfully impersonal, and the slightest bit violent. I quickly walked back inside.

I thought about the couch for the rest of the day, wondering where it was. I wondered if eventually the angle put pressure on one of the buttons and made the seat recline. If as the man drove down the road, the couch spit out a footrest as it had done thousands of times before, waiting for one of us to lay down, sick or tired or ready to watch a movie. It took a little extra oomph to click the footrest back into place, but I suppose he’d have to figure that out on his own.   

After the Small Talk, We’re Just Us

Every year, my grandpa’s side of the family gets together at the end(ish) of summer. Sometimes we call it a “family reunion”, other times we call it the “summer sizzle”, but really it’s just our annual summer appointment to hang out with each other. We head down to the coast and we barbecue and we watch the sun move from high in the sky to just above the horizon. It’s a good day. It’s always a good day.

But typical of any get together, there’s a beginning. The part where we are so happy to see each other but don’t always know where to start. We get together twice a year, so usually when the end of summer rolls around we haven’t seen each other since our holiday get together in December. So as we hug and smile and start our day together, we try to figure out where we’ve been and what we’ve done in the last eight months—which can be tricky, because sometimes it’s hard to remember what happened in the last eight days.

What stories do we have to share? What made us laugh or cry or shifted our perspective? Did we travel anywhere? Are we living somewhere new? How about those Dodgers? Is there any good gossip to spill?

Even with family, there can be that moment of nerves or awkwardness or pause as you skim through the days that have passed since you’ve last seen each other, through all the good and the bad, wondering where to start when someone says, how are you?

But the best part of family—or at least our family—is that there’s space for that. Space for pause, space for awkwardness, space for you to consider the question and how deep you want to go with it. Because in my family—my great, big family—there is always someone willing to lend an ear, or to gossip with, or to joke around with, or to sit quietly next to. No matter what you’re looking for, you can find it as you walk around the patio or stand in line for food or lounge around on the couch.

In my family, there is permission to just be. And that doesn’t come with a responsibility to say everything on your mind or tell every secret or have everything figured out. It doesn’t require you to always know what question to ask, or to necessarily say anything at all. In my family, and on this day, there is room to just embrace the love being offered, and to pass it on to the next person.

So even when things feel shy in the beginning, when we don’t quite know where to start, we know that in time—sometimes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours, sometimes as the sun makes it final descent—there will always be ease waiting on the other side.

And by the end of the day, when we’re all tired and a little dehydrated, when we’re no longer sitting up straight on the couches, but slouching into each other with feet propped up on knees and elbows tangled with elbows and heads resting in laps, we’re saying anything that comes to mind. We’re loose and we’re giggling and we’re delaying the end of the night. We’re sassy and we’re repeating inside jokes that took shape earlier in the day. We’re debriefing and we’re already planning when we’ll see each other again, because for the last eight hours we’ve been reminded of the ease that exists here, and we want to make plans to find it again, as soon as possible. Because after the small talk, we’re just us, we’re family. And that’s what makes it a good day.

My Sister Got Married, Obviously

On Saturday, my sister Natalee got married in a very small ceremony in our parents’ backyard.

After getting engaged in March, Natalee and her fiancé, Will, booked a wedding venue for March 2023 that will host about 250 guests when the time comes. But after some thought, they decided they wanted to exchange their vows in front of immediate family and start their married life a little earlier.

So, we planned a wedding.  We planned it over text messages, shared iPhone notes and pen drawings on computer paper, and when the day came, everyone knew what to do and where they were needed most.

On Saturday morning, I sat beside Natalee on the couch eating a cinnamon roll. There had been some stressful days leading up to the day, and there had been details both big and small that we’d meticulously, and sometimes literally ironed out, but on the morning of the actual wedding, I felt calm.

As we handmade the flower arrangements and fought with the wooden arch in the backyard; when our hair appointments ran long and then I stood out in the 90 degree heat sprinkling rose petals on the grass; as I watched my baby sister put on her wedding dress and get her picture taken with her bouquet, and then heard Elvis play over the speaker as she walked down the aisle with my dad; as she stood up on the wooden platform and held hands with the man of her dreams, and then turned to face us as our pastor introduced, for the first time, husband and wife, I felt calm.

Have you ever had that self-conscious feeling that you should be more emotional? When you think to yourself, shouldn’t I be crying right now? I didn’t even have that feeling. I just floated through the day, without a tear shed, or a shuddering breath taken. I was just happy. I was just calm. My one consuming thought of the day was: well, obviously.

When Will and Natalee first started dating, when she was nervous to tell him how she felt, I thought, he feels the same way, obviously.

When Will celebrated Christmas with our family for the first time and said he felt right at home, I thought, because you are, obviously.

And when Natalee came walking down the aisle, looking at Will, smiling ear to ear, I thought, this is how it was always meant to be, obviously.

There has never been a doubt in my mind. I’ve had a front seat to their relationship from the very beginning and seen how happy they make each other. Will appreciates and loves my sister for everything that she is and in every way she deserves, and Natalee does the same for him.

So even though I felt all of those feelings that might make me emotional. Even though I had all those words buzzing around inside me, the ones I’d barely be able to share as I held my sister’s hands and told her how much she deserves a love like this—how much she always has—or as I sat down next to Will for hours, trying to explain all the ways I love, appreciate, and value him, and how happy I am to start calling him my brother. Even though our backyard ceremony was designed to be a one-way ticket to Sob City, to me it felt more like a place to relax. Because it felt like the only place in the world there was.

There aren’t a lot of “obvious” days. Most of the time, we don’t know what’s going to happen or when. We don’t know where we’ll be or who we’ll be with and we don’t know what we’ll say or do. But on that day, everything was as it should be. Everything was right. There was no reason to worry, no questions left to ask. That day, that marriage, that moment, it was obvious.

10 Things You Might Hear While Fishing With Us

I grew up fishing.

There are so many Saturday’s and Sunday’s I can remember waking up early at my family’s mountain cabin, anxious to get out on the lake. We would stop at 7-eleven and buy mini donuts, we’d rent one of the bright orange boats at the dock, and then we’d start our loop around the lake, knowing where and when the best bites should hit.

These days, while the Saturday’s and Sunday’s spent fishing are much fewer and farther between, we still try to get out as much as we can. And when we’re lucky, we fish with some friends in some of the most beautiful places.

But no matter where we are or who we’re with, there are some things you’re bound to hear if you happened to walk by. We have our own kind of language when we fish, one that I had to actively pull myself out of in order to write this post. I had to imagine myself out on the lake, or in my seat on the shore, listening to the people around me say things that might not make sense to someone that’s never fished before—or maybe just someone that’s never fished with us.

Here are some of those things:

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1) Fish On!

No, this isn’t a chant for the downtrodden, encouraging all those who have been shut out to keep going, to FISH. ON! This is a victory cry that announces you, quite literally, have a fish on your line. Usually we’ll pick up our pole and wait until we’ve successfully set the hook, and then yell “fish on!” It’s fun to watch our group cheer as surrounding groups slump in jealousy.

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2) How did this even happen?

I can think of a number of different circumstances in which I’ve said this exact thing in a non-fishing context. Like when I followed the instructions of a recipe and ended up with something scary. Or when I tripped and fell in grand fashion for no discernable reason. Sometimes things just become a disaster and we have no idea why. In fishing, this usually involves your line becoming a rat’s nest in the blink of an eye. Or perhaps the time I hooked a fish by the tail. Or when I reeled in my pole to rebait, only to mysteriously hook my shoe in the process.

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3) I’ve lost everything.

This is perhaps the saddest thing you can hear while fishing. Sure, you’ll lose the occasional fish. You’ll lose your bait, hook, swivel, jig, lure, or bobber. But sometimes, whether it be during a fight with a fish, or by reeling your line through a patch of seaweed, over a rock or under a log, you will, in fact, lose everything. In an instant your pole will go slack, and you know that when you reel in the rest of the line, there will be absolutely nothing there. Sometimes even the pole breaks too. *sigh*

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4) Bitch stole my bait.

Our most common moniker for fish is *ahem* bitch. And if you ever fished, you know why. Fish can be slimy, shady little…well, bitches. They can tangle up your line, they can swim under a rock or log and make you lose everything, they can get your hopes up only to send them crashing down. Sometimes fish can be clever. They figure out that the shiny, sparkly Powerbait (or worm or mosquito or salmon egg) is a trap, and will nibble them off the hook without a trace. So when you reel in your line, curious why you haven’t gotten a bite, you find nothing but a hook, licked clean like a plate on Thanksgiving. And so, the only natural thing to say is, that bitch stole my bait.  

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5) *Zelda noises*

When my siblings and I were little, we got Zelda: Ocarina of Time for our Nintendo 64. To this day, it is probably our favorite game of all time, and thus, the sights, sounds, bosses, challenges, etc. are firmly engrained in all of our memories. One of which is the unforgettable sound Link makes while swinging his sword, which is a high pitched “HaaaAAAA” noise. In time, it has become one of the most hilarious noises in the world. ESPECIALLY, when we’ve been fishing for hours, haven’t caught much, and have slipped into a delirium that encourages us to use these sword fighting sounds to help us cast.

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6) Do you have tinkage?

While trolling (fishing on a slow-moving boat) my family and I often use lures—mainly Thomas Bouyants and Super Dupers. These lures will “swim” around in the water, swaying back and forth, to attract the attention of the fish and ideally get them to bite. As a result, the swaying motion causes the tip of our fishing poles to twitch, or, as we like to call it, “tink.” If your pole is “tinking” it means the lure is swimming right. Thus, do you have tinkage? means “everything look good over there?” And responses to this range, from: “yup” to “oh, MAJOR tinkage.”

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7) We need the Koehn death grip over here.

Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at removing hooks from fish we’ve caught. To do this however, I need to keep the fish still. And so, I’ve figured out the kind of hand strength I need to make that happen. In our circle of friends, this has become known as “the Koehn death grip.” Koehn (pronounced “cane”) being my last name.  Fish have been known to gurgle while I hold them in my hand, and once I squeezed a bigger fish so hard that a salmon egg (which we were not fishing with) popped out of the fish’s mouth. Oops.

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8) I need STANK.

One of my sister’s biggest superstitions while shore fishing is to add a Powerbait attractant to her bait. It adds scent and flavor to your bait so that fish will find it and bite. While making this list, I had to actively search for what this stuff is actually called because for decades we have only ever called it “stank” or “stinky stuff.” At any given time while fishing, my sister will say, “I need STANK,” and as I write this I am giggling, knowing how completely unfazed we are by this request. We just toss her the bottle and move on.

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9) Should we do a fish call?

I HESITATE to tell you this because it feels like a trade secret. But then, I don’t know if there’s a single person we’ve taken fishing that we haven’t told this to, so, perhaps it’s not a secret at all. At the start of any fishing trip (morning, afternoon, or evening) we like to do a “fish call.” This makes us feel like the fishing has started and, we like to believe, summons the fish toward us. To do a fish call*, you simply make a fist, count to three, and then blow into your fist the way you might if your hands were cold. But you elongate that exhale, that way the call can reach even the biggest fish at the deepest depths. Then, you open your hand and push the call into the open.

*Shout out to everyone who just did a fish call at their desk, in their bedroom, on their couch or wherever else you might be reading this.

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10) Seems like it’s time for a beer.

And finally, this one. Do I need to explain this one? I feel like I don’t. When you’re fishing, it’s almost always time for a beer.

A Golden Birthday in Nashville (Part 2)

Monday March 21st, 2022

On Monday, the birthday-day!, our first stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame. We walked up and down aisles of country music history, recognizing some faces, and learning about others. My mom has always been a fan of country music, so it was fun to hear songs that she’d played for me throughout my childhood, and to see her face light up in recognition of those that reminded her of hers.

Music history is special. It weaves its way into all of our lives, defining moments we will remember forever. As we walked among the crowds, I liked to imagine all of the shoulders being tapped, and hushed stories being shared, saying things like, “this reminds me of ____” or “I first heard this when ___.”

Even though we might not notice, we all have soundtracks that define our lives and unlock memories that we might not even remember we still have. I know for me (in the country music world at least) I have fond memories of Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Amy Grant, and Crystal Bernard, and hearing them helps me connect with that little girl that heard them for the first time—be it in my mom’s car on the way to school or on the cd player in the living room—twenty years ago.

On our way out, my mom and I designed this country music *star*, designing her persona from her shoes to her hair. Personally, I think she looks like the love child of Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift, which sounds like an absolute dream of an artist.

From the Country Music Hall of Fame, we made our way to Yee Haw Brewing Co. for a drink and some lunch. I ordered a watermelon margarita and some tacos, and while I remember them being good, they were supremely overshadowed by the pretzel that we ordered. It was gigantic, it was delicious, and I will probably think about it for the rest of my life. That being said, it was so good that it was about 75% gone before I even considered taking a picture. So you will just have to go to Nashville to try one for yourself.

In the same building as Yee Haw Brewing is Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, so after lunch a big group walked over to do a moonshine tasting. I sat it out, but happily leaned on the bar to watch everyone’s mouths pucker and eyes water—especially after tasting the 128 proof moonshine known as Blue Flame. Among the other offerings—some of which we brought home with us—were moonshine pickles, moonshine cherries, and Mountain Java moonshine, which I heard tastes a *little* like chocolate milk, and makes an excellent addition to your morning coffee if you need an extra strong start to your day.

Around 6:00p.m that evening, we walked from our building to Bakersfield, a Mexican restaurant hosting Tanner’s birthday dinner. I should also note that earlier in the day, we were all given matching hats that said “TS 3/21”. The TS being Tanner’s initials and the date obviously being his birthday. With our group, that was essentially the size of a baseball team, we turned quite a few heads in our matching gear. The red, white and blue coloring of the hats made us look like we might be campaigning for an upcoming election, though I think a few people looked at us fearfully as if we might be recruiting for a cult. Either way, we loved them, and we rocked them for the remainder of the night.

After dinner, we headed to Luke Bryan’s bar (Luke Bryan’s 32 Bridge), which had a very mellow vibe. A pair of gentlemen stood on stage singing classic country songs we all knew, and we happily sang along, occasionally dancing, and constantly pointing at Tanner in the hope that they might sing happy birthday.

We then walked over to Kid Rock’s bar (Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk and Steakhouse). It was nice out, so we headed up to the rooftop and sat, sipping on our drinks, taking the occasional shot, and singing along to the band playing 80’s music.

After a little while, we decided it was time to move on, but then they played “Time of My Life”from Dirty Dancing, and so we all took off towards the stage and danced our Patrick Swayze hearts out. I then realized that—because I am the mom of the friend group—I’d packed snacks in my purse earlier in the day. So I pulled out a pack of fruit snacks which, at 11:00pm, with alcohol sponsored energy, felt like the greatest thing to ever happen. There is a video from that night of me dancing with my hands over my head. One fist is tightly closed because I am keeping my remaining fruit snacks intact for continued snacking. #snackdedication

When we finally did walk downstairs, we only got as far as the second floor (there are five total). Because on the second floor, you can look out over the first floor, which had people dancing on top of the bar, a live band singing while a bartender poured a beer on someone, and people cheering, singing and raising their glasses all over the room.

At first, I think we all stopped just to watch. They were playing good music, but it was also perhaps some of the best people watching around. But then, the music got us. We started dancing and then we kept dancing. The bar started to empty and we just kept on dancing. We jumped and we sang and we tipped our Tanner themed hats. We put our arms around each other and belted out notes into our empty cups. We stomped our boots and clapped our hands. It felt like a celebration for Tanner and a celebration of music. We twirled and laughed and took pictures that would forever bring us back to those moments. The world felt normal—or at least this new kind of normal. I felt appreciative of this night, as I knew how far we’d come to be able to have it.

We walked home, talking a mile a minute, already reminiscing about this night, about the night before, and everything in between. My FitBit buzzed, letting me know I hit 10,000 steps—two hours into the day—and my feet—this time in tennis shoes—kept dancing while I brushed my teeth, not stopping until I again collapsed into bed.

Tuesday March 22nd, 2022

Tuesday morning was a bit of an earlier wake up call. Especially when you consider that we’d been out dancing only a matter of hours beforehand. Our group walked over to meet everyone at their AirBnb just up the street, as a bus was picking us up to drive us to Lynchburg.

If you are a country music fan, the town of Lynchburg might sound familiar, even if you’ve never been to Tennessee. This is because it is the home (the one and ONLY home) to Jack Daniels whiskey.

Being a loyal Jameson family (sorry) and having toured the Jameson distillery in Ireland, we were curious to learn about this American whiskey that, while not our number one, is still a staple in our houses—especially the Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey.

In the end, we learned a lot about the making of whiskey, a lot about the man himself, Jack Daniels—who casually started working in a distillery at the age of eight—and a lot about the variety of whiskeys the distillery makes. I bought a Tennessee Honey baseball hat to support our trusted pal, but left with my loyalty to Jameson unshaken. (Sorry, again.)

By the time we got home that evening, our group was entirely too exhausted to even consider going out again. We’d been running on an average of 4-5 hours of sleep, and were set to fly home the next day. So, we robed up—embracing our last night as *penthouse people*—and ordered in some pizza. A rainstorm blew in and drenched the city, sending many people on the streets below running for cover. Wind whistled through the buildings and cars moved slow. We all went to bed early that night, and our bodies thanked us for it.

Wednesday March 23rd, 2022

On our last morning in Nashville, we ate a marvelous carb loaded breakfast at Another Broken Egg Café. I ordered the Bourbon Street Pancakes, which I felt was a good send off—not to mention delicious.

By 12:30pm we were out of our suite and in an Uber on the way to the airport, sad the trip was over, and even sadder that we had to go to work the next morning.

After the plane took off, I sat, looking out the window, hoping that the trip had been all that Tanner hoped it would be. For me, it was even more. The weeks prior to leaving had been chaotic and I was a little nervous I wouldn’t be able to unwind enough to truly enjoy the trip. But I’d had so much fun dancing and singing and jumping around like I didn’t have a care in the world. I’d loved wearing my hat (emblazoned with Tanner’s initials) backwards in a honky tonk, like a fraternity brother on spring break. I’d loved the city of Nashville and its quirky architecture and lively energy. I’d loved this break from reality, from everything that had been weighing me down at home.

Even though I was exhausted, and so excited to be reunited with my pillow—and my normal bedtime—I was going to miss this trip, and the people I took it with.

I was already dreaming up our next one, excited that someday, that dream would be a reality.

A Golden Birthday in Nashville (Part 1)

About three years ago my cousin Tanner told me and my family that he wanted to celebrate his twenty first birthday in Nashville, Tennessee.  

Funnily enough, we were in Paris at the time, waiting for the clock to strike ten so that the Eiffel Tower—which we took to calling “Eif”—would light up. Our group of nine cheers-ed to the idea, both wishing it was closer, and praying that the trip we were already on would find a way to last a little longer.

Like everyone else, we didn’t know what was to come. And we had no idea that we’d spend much of the “countdown to Nashville” locked inside. But, when things started opening back up, and flights to Nashville went on sale, we booked, we prayed and then we waited.

On Saturday, March 19th, that waiting ended.

Saturday March 19th, 2022

As we made our way down 2nd Avenue, sitting in bumper to bumper Saturday night traffic in downtown Nashville, music played from seemingly every direction. A tractor drove by towing a trailer full of people dancing and drinking, pedestrians walked down the street in dresses, boots and cow print pants. Meanwhile, our Uber driver yelled, “I DON’T SEE MY DESTINATION!” at his navigation system, so we politely asked to get out, suggesting that we were close enough and could walk the rest of the way.

“This is us,” my dad said, pointing to a building.

As far as lodging went, I had no real expectations going in. I’m a bargain hunter by trade, and had done my part by finding us a great deal on flights, so I assumed my dad had found a hotel that he simply liked the look of.  But when the doors opened to the fourth (and top) floor of our building, and a key code let us into the Penthouse apartment that my dad had found a good deal on, we all walked in, absolutely speechless.

It was a fun space, with both eclectic and nostalgic design schemes. There was a piano, a pool table, an arcade machine, a lava lamp, coasters that looked both like floppy discs and records, a picture of a young Queen Elizabeth edited to give her piercings and neck tattoos, and lots of books ranging from Nashville themed cookbooks to Marvel based dictionaries.

There were 4 bedrooms (each of which had at least one cloth robe emblazoned with the building’s name hanging in the closet), four bathrooms, a living room with a couch and four comfortable chairs, a kitchen, and a wet bar. And did I mention we were only a block from Broadway Street?

My family has never been wealthy, or flashy, or really ever been one that regularly “splurges”, but like most people (perhaps more than some and less than others) we had been put through the ringer in the last two years, and so walking up and down the length of the suite, marveling that it was “all for us!!”, felt like a true testament to all that we’d made it though, and all that we’d come to celebrate.

After we unpacked, we walked over to Gray & Dudley, as we wanted to eat, drink, and meet up with the guest of honor.  Tanner was turning 21 on the 21st of March, making it his golden birthday, and it almost felt surreal to actually be in Nashville, primed to celebrate it. Our trip to Europe felt like 10 years ago, but now that we were here, in Nashville, taking this trip that had once only been an idea, made it feel like just yesterday we were sitting in that Parisian café, dreaming it up. 

With our group of seven, we made the group total 17. Tanner’s family, friends and cousins had also made the trip, and we all gathered around a corner of the bar, hugging, smiling and chatting.

Even though most of us knew each other already, it still felt like a bit of an ice breaker. We were all still in our plane attire, with our eyes a little heavy from the 5ish hours of travel and the anticipation of the trip to come. We would be each other’s community for the trip. The people you would look for if you got separated in a bar or a restaurant, the faces and voices you would recognize up ahead on the street or coming around the corner behind you. Tanner had brought us all together and now we’d all be a part of each other’s memories, writing stories on this weekend of our shared histories, and taking pictures that would eventually make us say, “remember when?”

We’d made it to Nashville and now it was time to enjoy it.

Sunday March 20th, 2022

At about 12:00pm on Sunday, we all made our way over to Centennial Park to see the Parthenon, which is a 90-year-old replica of the Greek structure originally built in 447 BC. (That’s 2500 years ago, y’all)

It is an imposing, beautiful structure that I can hardly believe just exists in the middle Nashville, Tennessee.

Immediately upon getting out of the car, I was taking pictures from every angle, knowing that none of them would ever really do it justice. It’s the kind of structure that makes you feel small, and when I asked my sister (who graciously obliged) to take off running down one of the cement pathways, I was reminded just how small we are.

Cute, but small.

From there, we made our way to the Belmont Mansion.

Located on the Belmont University campus, the Belmont Mansion is listed as the largest house built in Tennessee prior to the Civil War. Moving from room to room (and trying desperately to abide by the “no touching” rules) we learned about Adelicia Acklen and her crazy life, which included three husbands, ten children (six of which died young), and of course, this expansive property which, at the time of completion, included lavish gardens, and a zoo.

Next, we headed to the historic Ryman auditorium. After checking in for our tour, we were led into a side room to watch what I assumed would be a standard informative film about the building. Instead, it was a fun, creative performance that not only taught us about the history of the Ryman, but made me both excited and invested in its (hopefully) bright and prosperous future.

At approximately 4:00pm, we were more or less starving. It had been a slow onset of travel hanger that I think, if left unchecked for much longer, could have escalated into violence. Thankfully, we found the Assembly Food Hall that had (among other things) chicken, pizza, edible no bake cookie dough, and alcohol just in time.

While we ate, we made a game plan for the night ahead. Tanner’s birthday was the next day and we wanted to be out celebrating on Broadway by midnight. So, we decided that everyone would meet at our place, where we would pregame and play a few rounds of beer pong and pool before heading out on the town.

We walked out of our building at about 11:55pm, so right as we reached Broadway, we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to sing happy birthday loud and proud.

We then headed to Jason Aldean’s bar, with Tanner leading the way. He walked up to the bouncer, who checked his ID once, then twice, then said, “hey, happy birthday man” before letting him through, officially starting his career as a legal bar hopper.

Once inside, we were a little bummed to find that the second floor (the country music floor) was closed for the night, so we climbed the stairs all the way to the top floor, which was blasting hip hop music and was more reminiscent of a downtown LA club than I think any of us were hoping. We walked out onto the rooftop and cheers-ed our drinks, knowing that the night was young and there were plenty more bars to choose from.

Similar to Vegas, Broadway comes alive at night. The dark sky gives the neon a chance to really glow, asking you to “come in!” “try this place!” “check this out!” We did a slow spin on our heels, taking in all of our options, each of us willing to go wherever the birthday boy had in mind. He pointed at a bar across the street, but then decided to peek in Tin Roof first, as there was a live band playing and the lead singer had an incredible voice.

We walked in, ordered some drinks and then started dancing. Our big group made the once scant bar look like it was hosting a small wedding reception. We were high energy and already comfortable with one another. We took turns walking up to make requests until eventually the lead singer asked what had brought us all in.

“TANNER!” we all shouted back at her.

She squinted her eyes, looking for Tanner in the crowd, and then nodded, “you look like a Tanner. You look like every boy that broke my heart in high school.”

Seeing as most of us are related to Tanner, we all shook our heads defensively. “NO! Tanner is great! This is a NICE Tanner!!”

We continued to dance, our group bantering back and forth with the band. Then my aunt, Tanner’s mom, bought the band a round of shots, which prompted them to sing, “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, except they changed the lyrics to say, “Tanner’s mom, has got it going on!” which we all sang at the absolute top of our lungs.

At 2:30am, the band signed off and the bar started to close. We walked outside to find Broadway much quieter than we’d last seen it. We had danced for almost two hours, and I was limping like a baby giraffe in my heeled booties that had seemed like such a good/cute idea when we left the house.

A couple people stopped to get late night gyros, both to soak up some alcohol and to account for the hunger that we’d worked up dancing the night away. Then we all collapsed into bed. Ears ringing, (at least my) feet throbbing, and curiosity building for what adventures awaited us the next day—or rather, the same day, in a matter of hours.

A Weekend of Happy Moments

I had a good weekend.

I wanted to write about it from start to finish, but the more I thought about it, the more I just wanted to highlight the moments that made it especially good. Because sometimes it’s not always the big moments, the obvious moments, the moments everyone can see from the outside. Sometimes it’s the smallest moments, the ones you may not even notice until they’re over. Lucky for me, I had a combination of both this weekend—big moments and small—and I want to share some of them.

Friday 4:30 p.m.

My mom and I, dressed in robes, walked into a quiet room where a few day beds faced a waterfall display. There was no music playing, no surrounding conversations, just the sound of water quietly running. We each had a cup of lemon water that we set on the end tables next to our respective day beds, and we took out our Kindles to read for a little while. Our bodies were fully relaxed, having just been treated to 90-minute massages, and we seemed to melt into those day beds, our robes tied loosely around our waists and our minds able to escape into our books. A half hour slipped by, then an hour, and we lay there, content and relaxed.

Friday 9:00 p.m.

I was curled under a blanket in my parents’ living room, watching West Side Story with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my grandpa. My grandpa and I have always bonded over our love of musicals, and so we’d wanted to watch the new adaptation of West Side Story together. The moment Tony and Maria first see each other at the dance, my 92-year-old grandpa said, wistfully, “this is called love at first sight.

Saturday 9:30 a.m.

It was 75 degrees outside and perfectly clear in Camarillo, and I was picking lemons on an expansive property that looked out over the city. I was part of a group of volunteers picking fruit for Food Forward, and I was filling a bucket with lemons and carrying it up the hill in order to fill the boxes we’d be donating to food shelters. The sun was out, and the lemon trees were blossoming, making the air the perfect blend of floral and citrus. I was sweating, and, at times, panting, as I carried that bucket (20 pounds when full) up the hill over and over, but I knew I was doing good work, and I was happy to be meeting new people.

Saturday 11:30 a.m.

I stopped at Jamba Juice—my tradition after completing a volunteer shift—and got small smoothie and an apple cinnamon pretzel. One of my favorite country songs (“Raised on it” by Sam Hunt) came on the radio, and I took a sip of my smoothie, said, “this is DELICIOUS” out loud, then blasted the song and sang every word.

Saturday 2:50 p.m.

I was standing on the shore of my favorite lake, having driven up to spend the weekend at my family’s cabin. My dad was on the phone with my sister, asking if she could see him, me and my mom from the boat she was fishing on with her boyfriend, Will. They were a good way away from us, and I was waving my arms and dancing, hoping to both get her attention and make her laugh. We were letting her know that we had arrived at the lake, so that they could make their way over to “pick us up.” Little did she know, a small group of friends and family were standing behind a tree, waiting for the signal to come down and watch as Will got down on one knee in the boat and asked her to marry him.

Saturday 3:00 p.m.

She said yes!

Saturday 4:00 p.m.

I was sitting on the boat (named “Tiny Guy”)—which my sister received as present from Will last year—for the very first time. Will was driving, Natalee was sitting beside me, and Will’s mom was sitting behind me. We were making our way from the shore where we’d all gathered after the proposal to the dock, and we couldn’t help but comment on the perfection of the day. The sun was bright and warm, and the sky was perfectly clear—not a cloud in sight. I’d been on that lake so many times growing up, always with my sister right beside me, fishing and singing and creating inside jokes that we still quote to this day, and now there I was, seeing her future unfold in the brightest way, surrounded by new family, with new memories awaiting us in the days ahead.

Sunday 2:30 p.m.

I was sitting on a recliner in the living room, trying to throw a bottle cap into a glass vase. After spending the morning and early afternoon lounging around, I proposed the game to my sister’s now fiancé Will. “How much would you give me if I made a bottle cap in that vase?” To be fair, the vase, set atop the fireplace mantle, already had about ten bottle caps in it, and I was wondering how impressed he would be if I could add to the collection from my chair. What unfolded was nearly 30 minutes of the three of us trying to make the bottle cap in the vase, and cheering as if we’d just won the World Series whenever one of us did.

Sunday 3:50 p.m.

I was sitting on a bench eating a sandwich, looking out at the lake. We’d picked up the sandwiches from the local market, and then parked our car in a shady spot on the highway before walking down the small hill to get to the lake. It was a little breezy, but the sun was still out and a few boats were making laps around the lake. We sat, sometimes talking, sometimes just taking bite after bite, soaking in the mountain air and the easy happiness that the weekend seemed to be made of.

Sunday 6:45 p.m.

I was in my car, singing my heart out on my drive home. The sun was only just starting to set since daylight saving time had given us back our evenings, and it was turning the sky pink. Every part of the weekend had gone right, from start to finish, and I was both ecstatic and exhausted. But the sunset seemed to promise only more good things, only more good moments. So I kept driving, kept singing, and made sure to take a few pictures once I pulled into the driveway at home.

It was the prettiest farewell to the happiest of weekends.

Two Different Days

On Saturday morning I got up early to drive to San Diego. Coming from Los Angeles, the drive is about 150 miles and can be two hours. But if you leave at the wrong time of day, it can get longer and longer (and longer). So when I head that direction, I do my best to outsmart the traffic. I left at about 8:30 a.m., and had an estimated arrival time of 11:00am, so I turned on a playlist and got comfortable.  

About 30 minutes into my drive, a motorcycle came up on my left, followed by about 50 more motorcycles. While it’s not strange to see crews of motorcycles cruising down the freeway, especially when the weather is nice, I was surprised when they kept coming and coming. Then, at the back, I saw a police officer. As an instinct, I sat up straight and checked my speed, but the officer paid me no mind, driving right by me, closely following the motorcycles. I continued driving, and then I noticed three cars in front of the motorcycles, all with their flashers on. In front of them, was a hearse.  

The parade of cars and motorcycles moved like a flock of birds. When the leader changed lanes, the line followed suit in a smooth transition. Hand signals were passed down the line like falling dominoes, and everyone stayed close together.

I couldn’t help but watch.

The playlist on my radio faded into the background and I drove on autopilot, fascinated. I examined the motorcycle riders, noticing how some wore matching leather jackets emblazoned with the name of their crew; some bikes had two people on them, one driver and one passenger holding on tight; hair flowed out from underneath helmets and tattoos were dark on forearms.

The hearse looked both like the toughest car and the most fragile. It was hard not to feel the weight of the vehicle, knowing it carried a body–a person. And everyone that followed in line cared about that person. Even though I had no personal connection to these people, and had no knowledge of the deceased, I still recognized the sting and humanness of loss.

I’d stood in those shoes many times before. I’d walked out of churches or across the grounds of cemeteries; I’d driven home from funerals and celebrations of life, drenched in the pain of grief. On those days, I often wondered what it might be like to be someone else, disconnected from the feeling I felt, living a different day, making different memories.

But on that day, I was the someone else. The sun was warm and welcoming, and I was excited to make the drive down to San Diego to visit one of my best friends and her family. I knew my weekend was going to be full of good conversation, good company and an undeniable lightness that comes with pure, unconditional friendship.

They, on the other hand, would feel differently. Their day would perhaps be quite heavy, quite hard, quite slow. They’d lost someone and their world looked a little different now. I knew how they felt, and I was sorry they had to feel it.

A hand went up in the front of the pack and pointed to the right, towards a sign for an upcoming exit. It started a ripple effect, sending hands up and to the right, down the line until it reached the last rider and the policeman following close behind. They moved smoothly into the next lane and then the next, and then took the off ramp. I drove past them, continuing on my way, and slowly turned my music back up, coming back into myself and my drive.  

I thought of them often throughout the weekend, wondering who they’d lost, how they were doing, and what had brought them all together in the first place. They were all living different lives and walking down different paths that could have taken them in a thousand different directions. But on that day, and perhaps many before it, they were all together. And on that morning, I was riding along with them, empathizing with their loss, admiring their community, and hoping for good things in the future.

We were all just people moving from one place to the next, but at the same time, we were so much more than that. We were the directions we were going and the places we’d come from. We were every morning that had led us to that one, and every morning that would come after. We were a collection of all the people we loved and all the people we’d lost. We were stories, actively being written, side by side. Perhaps we’d never cross paths again, but the fact that we had was a humbling reminder of how many lives are being lived in a single day.

Two hours later, I turned off my car and knocked on the door of my friend Nicole’s house. She greeted me with a warm smile and her two-year-old son looked up at me shyly.

“Hi Kim,” he said, before stuffing a bite of muffin in his mouth. I took a seat next to him, thankful this was my day, knowing not everyone was so lucky.

Tiny Perfect Moments of 2021 (List-cember #4)

In February of this year, the movie The Map of Tiny Perfect Things was released on Amazon Prime.

I mentioned it in my January & February favorites and I have watched it a handful of times since.

While the concept is similar to that of Groundhog Day, it takes special care to highlight the small, special moments that happen each day but often go unnoticed.

After watching the movie, I started to look for the tiny perfect moments happening around me, whether they involved me or not, and I wrote them down. Now they stick out in my memory, reminding me of those little bursts of happy rather than letting them fade into the background. And I think it’s a habit I’m going to continue.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here are some of the tiny, perfect moments I found in 2021 and here’s to many more in 2022!

1) Sitting at a red light, I saw a man standing on the corner waiting for the go ahead to cross the street. He was wearing headphones and bobbing his head to whatever he was listening to, not a care in the world. When his light turned green, he popped his hip to the left, on what I assume was a specific beat in the song, and then he started walking, continuing to bob his head and enjoy the music.

2) While on a run in my neighborhood, I saw a girl walking up ahead of me. We were on opposite sides of the street, but we were both heading in the same direction. As I moved out and around a parked car, grateful that my final turn towards home was approaching, she slowed to a stop next to a tree that had long drooping branches with yellow flowers on the ends. She took one flower gently in her hand and lifted her nose to smell it. Then she kept moving and the branch slowly bounced behind her, casting a shadow that looked like a waving arm onto the asphalt.

3) As I hurriedly got off the freeway in an attempt to get to a store before it closed, I drove past a park that has hugely tall trees. One of which has a long, thick branch that reaches across the grass, leaving a path of shade. It was a summer afternoon and the temperatures were barely out of the triple digits, but a woman had set up a folding chair in that lane of shade. Her legs were crossed, hair up in a bun, and she was reclining comfortably, reading. She looked as content as could be.

4) One morning, just after eight o’clock, I was en route to pick up an order for work. The freeways were congested, as always, so I was cutting down side streets, hoping to catch as many green lights as I could. At one red light, as I broke off a piece of my apple cinnamon breakfast bar, I saw a man walk out onto his balcony with a cup of coffee. The morning air was a little crisp, so I was wearing a jacket, but he was in a t-shirt and sweats. He put one hand on the banister and used the other to lift his coffee cup to his lips. He took a long sip and then just looked out at the day, thinking peacefully.

5) The apartment I live in has underground parking and a slow moving gate that you have to open with a remote. More often than not, as the gate opens, someone walks or runs by, usually with a dog in tow, so I always drive out in a slow roll, looking both ways multiple times. One morning, as I sat back waiting for the gate to peel open, a man walked by, a leash in one hand, his phone in the other. A small, happy dog, padded in front of him. He glanced over at me and then slowed almost to a stop once he’d cleared the gate. Looking down at his phone, his eyes concentrated, reading, and then a smile spread across his face like it was being unzipped. He closed his eyes, excited, and then put the phone in his pocket and kept walking.

6) One Saturday morning in October my best friend and I decided to get up and drive to Santa Barbara to have brunch and shop around. It was the perfect day and we were walking up and down State St. when we heard someone singing. We looked across the street and a girl was standing, all on her own, singing opera to a gathering crowd of people. She had a beautiful voice and we were taken aback by her courage to stand out there alone and sing. We stopped to watch for a little while, and then when we turned to leave, we saw a man walk out of a store in front of us. We saw him notice her. He turned toward her voice and then just stopped, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, completely in awe, and listened.

7) At gas station downtown, I leaned against my car, waiting for my tank to fill up. Two cars sat on the opposite side of the divider as me, both belonging to men who were pushing buttons on their respective machines. After a minute or two, they started talking. There had clearly been some kind of altercation that I’d missed, but in my book, I’d showed up just in time. Their conversation went like this:

“Hey, I’m sorry about before. I’m just going through some stuff, but that’s not your fault.”

“Don’t worry about it, we all have our moments.”

“Yeah, but I’m still very sorry.”

“Don’t give it another thought, truly.”

“Thank you.”

Keep your eye out for those tiny, perfect moments. They are everywhere! And they will only make your days brighter 🙂


Check out more List-cember posts here.