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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.

Our Epic October Trip (Part 3: North Carolina)

On Thursday we were prepping for our third and final state hop—until our flight home of course—but we (intentionally) did not have an early flight. So, we took the morning slow, said goodbye to the DreamMore Resort sorrowfully, and then visited this Dolly Parton statue in Sevierville before sitting down at the local Cracker Barrel for breakfast.

Afterward, with a little bit of time left before our flight, we drove around the University of Tennessee. It was Homecoming weekend, so there were a few tours going on with families and prospective students, and I tried to do that thing where you pretend to look knowingly out the window, as if you go to that school and you want people to be envious of your vast wisdom of the campus. But we were trying to find the football stadium and drove by the same tour four times, so I think they might have been on to me.

Our final destination of the trip was North Carolina, where we were visiting our cousins, Spenser and Ashlynn, who moved there from California a few years back. We were headed into Halloween weekend and, not being much of a Halloween person myself, I was delighted for the spectacularly mellow version I would be experiencing. Not to mention the fact that we were teaching my cousins’ one and half year old son, Easton, how to trick or treat.

After a late night arrival on Thursday, we woke up on Friday morning relaxed and happy to be there. The fall colors were in full bloom—or as my cousin Spenser put it, “the trees had their best clothes on”—and the view out our window was dreamy.

We drove down to Franklin Street for lunch, where I tried my first ever acai bowl, which seemed wild since I’m from Los Angeles. And while I loved it, I ate it somberly, knowing that if I bought the same one in California, it would probably cost me about $45. So I tried not to get too attached for fear of getting hurt in the long run.

That night, as part of our group went to the UNC soccer game, my mom and I stayed back with Ashlynn and Easton. As Easton and I hung out in the playroom, reading books and building towers solely so we could knock them over, Ashlynn and my mom got to work on dinner, making one of my favorites, chicken pot pie. Then, as if he knew what time it was, Easton stood up and pointed at the door, as if to say, “if we head down now, mom will probably feed me dinner.”

And he was right.

Ashlynn got him all set up in his highchair and I took a seat next to him to cut up his dinner while Ashlynn kept cooking. Then, in arguably the cutest thing that has ever happened to me, Easton began to hold my hand as he ate. As in, he gave up an essential eating utensil—or rather, five—in order to hold my hand. And he continued to hold my hand all through dinner.

As it was happening, I felt like it was one of those moments that you’ll remember forever; one of those things that I’ll probably end up telling Easton 50,000 times as he grows up, always making sure to mime the way his little hand held on tightly to my middle and index fingers, making me feel like the most special person in the world. Sorry in advanced, little man.

The next day, we went curling.

Now, you may remember (or not) that wayyy back in this post, where I listed 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30—some of which I’ve abandoned, others I’ve done, and still others I’ve added to my lifelong bucket list because time limits prove to be difficult—I put “go curling” as #26.

I’m 31 now, but like I said, we try not to be boxed in by time limits anymore, so I like to think that I manifested this at just the right time.

Spoiler alert: curling is way harder than it looks, but it is just as fun. I learned so many components that you wouldn’t know just by watching it on TV—which we do, every winter Olympics, and I will not accept slander for this.

Our coach for the day told us we were better than average for beginners. We won’t discuss whether he said that before or after we bought him a beer, we will merely take the compliment and assume he means we are approaching Olympic caliber. In telling my grandpa about our curling experience, he made sure to point out that he had been training us to do this our whole lives, as he had taught us how to sweep at a very young age. So make sure you do your chores kids, you never know where they’ll lead you.

Sunday was Halloween, which I completely forgot as we spent the morning at the lake, fishing. It was the most relaxed I’d been on Halloween in a while, as I didn’t have a single party to worry about attending, or the nagging decision on what costume to wear—should it be the one I’ve worn for the last four years, or should I branch out, be fun, and hate it?—and I was just happy to be looking at the water, watching everyone reel in fish, and wondering if the swimmers that we saw swim at least a mile’s distance across the lake were okay and/or Olympians.

That night, I will admit, my Halloween spirit did flicker on, but only because Easton was wearing a doctor costume and I thought I might explode over the cuteness. Plus, I was awarded the prestigious honor to carry our bright purple candy bag, which I would hold open for him to throw each piece of candy into, and then we would all cheer for him, which he loved.

Once we got home, we went into full middle school candy swap mode, and dumped our spoils out on the table before methodically picking our pieces one by one. My adult teeth were wondering what on earth was going on as I stuffed Laffy Taffy’s into my mouth for the first time since high school, but my tastebuds were like, “FINALLY, we’ve missed you! This b*tch eats too many vegetables now.”

On Monday morning, as my dad and my sister’s boyfriend (who had met us in North Carolina for the last leg of our trip) flew home, my mom, sister and I hopped in the car with Spenser to check off one of my 2020 goals.

In doing some research for our trip, I found that one of the World’s Largest Roadside Attractions (which I commonly refer to as WLRA’s) was not only in North Carolina, but within an hour from my cousins’ house.

If you’re ever in High Point, NC, also known as the “furniture capital of the world”—which we quickly understood when we saw approximately 100 furniture stores, including one called “Furniture Land” that had north and south wings—check out the world’s largest chest of drawers. It is wonderful and strange and worth every minute of the drive. Plus, I hear they paint the socks different colors every once in a while—which might only be exciting and interesting to me and I accept that.

On Tuesday, November 2nd, almost two full weeks since we left home, we boarded our final flight (second to last if you want to get technical and count the connection), bidding our adventure farewell.

I waited until we landed in Burbank and got our luggage to say, “that was perfect!” because we truly had about as few missteps as you can have on a vacation, with no missed flight, lost luggage, wrong turn, or disagreement. We’d taken a clean break from everything back home and it felt nearly impossible to go back.

I’ll admit though, there were parts of me that were ready to return to my routine. Sometimes I find certain parts of vacation stressful because I don’t know what to expect, which in turn leads to anxiety regarding the expectations of how I think people want me to react to whatever is coming next. There was also a part of me that was relieved to spend time alone, because when you are on vacation, it is all about socialization and going with the flow of the crowd, as you don’t want to hold anyone back from doing anything they might not have the opportunity to do again.

But as I sat on the plane home, letting the vacation marinate in my mind, I felt incredibly grateful for each and every day of the trip, and nostalgic for it, even though we hadn’t yet left its orbit.

I missed waking up, excited that we weren’t going home the next day (or the next day, or the next.) I missed just existing in each day, knowing I had no responsibilities, no chores, and none of my normal worries. I even missed the unfamiliarity of driving through each new place, never knowing what was going to be on the other side of a particular hill, or around a certain street corner. I liked being able to peek into neighboring car windows, knowing it was going to be someone I’d never seen before, or to look over at families and couples at restaurants, wondering if they were visiting too, or if they’d been born here, grew up here, and were now building their own lives here. I liked noticing what was around me, because at home it is so easy to become numb and overexposed to my normal streets and crowds.

It was hard going back to work, and stressful to jump back into a routine that I’d abandoned for what felt like forever. But now, each day I wake up, each day I go through the comforts and stresses of normal, I know I’m one day closer my next adventure, and I can’t wait to see where that takes me.

Our Epic October Trip (Part 2: Arkansas & Tennessee)

On Friday, we had an early flight to Arkansas, where we planned to spend the weekend with my cousin Brittney and her family. On our agenda was nothing and everything, all of which was made ten times better because we were finally back in Arkansas, where we always dipped a little bit into a southern accent and felt like we belonged.

Plus, since we were visiting family, there was no awkward warm up. Once we arrived at Brittney and Scott (her husband’s) house, we just sat down on the couch and started talking. Nora (their six-year-old daughter) showed us a fun package she’d gotten in the mail, and Landon (their nine-year-old son) told us all about his birthday party that happened the weekend before.

On Saturday morning, we went to Landon and Nora’s soccer games, where we weaved into the crowd and sat on the sidelines, cheering them on as if we’d always been there, and on Saturday night we made chicken tacos a la a delicious rotisserie chicken from the store—making sure to take time to snap the wishbone to see who got a wish (Nora)—and chocolate chip cookies for dinner. Then we sat outside and carved pumpkins as the sun went down.

On Sunday, the boys got up and headed out to another soccer game, while the girls stayed in our pajamas, taking our morning slooow. We sipped coffee, read picture books, and attempted a very complicated Frozen themed Lego castle, before heading out to a local bookfair, getting manicures, having lunch, and then coming home and watching The Aristocats on the couch—all the makings of a perfect girl’s day.

On Sunday night, as bedtime loomed for Nora and our noon flight the next day ticked closer to take off, I found myself looking around the room the same way I’d done in Texas. Though Grammie wasn’t necessarily a taboo topic at home, sitting with Brittney, who’d known her as well as we did, we often found ourselves telling stories and cracking up laughing as we remembered her. It made her feel alive again. And it made me feel closer to Brittney, Nora, and my mom and sister, as she was a part of all of us. It made me feel more like myself.

It was then that I realized this trip was about so much more than escape or adventure—it wasn’t about running away, it was about coming home. And all the many kinds of homes that there are to come home to.

On Monday October 25th, we said our goodbyes first thing in the morning, as the kids went off to school and Scott went to work, and then we headed to the airport for our mid-day flight.

Our next stop was, at first, one that had only been sent in what if type text messages. It was a dream pit stop. One we assumed would stay in the “one day” category for a long time. But when we landed in Knoxville, Tennessee and picked up our rental car; when we put the directions into the GPS and drove the hour south to Pigeon Forge; when we came up over the hill and saw the sign accented with butterflies; and when we were given our room keys and a menu for an in-room breakfast that included coffee and homemade cinnamon bread—we knew we were really going to Dollywood.

Staying at the DreamMore Resort was leaps and bounds more than we could have anticipated. It was extra in the classiest way—with the toiler paper being pressed with the hotel logo, the hallways being decked out with Dolly Parton album covers, the floor being covered in butterflies, and the gift shop stocked with (affordable!) Dolly Parton merchandise.

On our first night, we cozied up on the couch to watch a Hallmark movie while we decided whether to order one loaf of cinnamon bread or two. Then we collapsed into sleep until we were pleasantly and politely woken up the next morning by the delivery of said cinnamon bread—hot and fresh from the oven.

The first thing on our agenda for the day was to get massages. Because if we were going to do Dollywood, we were going to do it right. We each booked a 50-minute Himalayan Salt Stone Massage, which, even to this day I’m not sure exactly what that meant, except that it was magical and I almost got emotional when my masseuse told me she was finished, because I could have easily laid there for an additional hour without flinching.

Then, after a quick bite to eat, we returned to our room, where we layered up and grabbed the car keys before heading out the door again.

Booked for 3:00 p.m. that day, was our Pink Jeep Adventure Tour. We booked the Newfound Gap tour, but there are five total options that can give you different sites and viewpoints, depending on what you’re looking for.

For our tour, we started in Pigeon Forge and then headed towards Gatlinburg and into Smoky Mountains National Park. Then we drove up to Newfound Gap where we saw a piece of the Appalachian trail, the Tennessee/North Carolina border, and some absolutely incredible views! Along the way, our tour guide made a couple of stops and let us get out to walk around and take pictures, and when we made it to the top, we had a half hour to take in the majestic beauty we were surrounded with.

On our way back to the depot, we put our jeep to the test on a brief but exciting 4×4 off-road experience, that included a sheer drop off that was known as “pucker hill” for reasons that I will not disclose here, but that you can perhaps use your imagination to figure out.

After we got back, we went to dinner at the restaurant inside the DreamMore Resort called Song & Hearth. It was a southern, buffet style restaurant where we ate entirely too much but that I will talk of fondly for a long time. Then we took piping hot showers to defrost from the jeep tour (even though it’s of note that the jeeps are heated, so we weren’t as cold as we could have been, but being from Southern California, we were still more or less popsicles) and got in our pajamas.

The next morning, we woke up bright and (not too) early and headed down to the Dollywood tram, because as part of our stay we were given early access into the theme park. The theme park itself had been our initial draw in coming to Tennessee, as Dolly Parton is one of my sister’s all-time favorites. Needless to say, we were ready to go hard in the theme park. We wanted to see every inch of it, try all of the food, and practically throw our credit cards at people to buy all of the things.

So, we started with pastries.

At a bakery just inside the entrance, a small line had already formed (and would only get longer as the day went on) as people picked up coffees and pastries. One such option was 25 POUND apple pie. You could either buy it by the slice or the whole toddler sized pie, and I’ll tell you, even at 9:30 in the morning, that cashier was cranking out slices. We opted for a cinnamon roll and a pumpkin muffin, both of which were delicious and the perfect way to start our day.

It was a brisk morning. The kind where you know you’ll feel better once the sun gets right above you, but for some reason it seems to be taking its time. At certain points, as we did our initial walk through the park, we would race into patches of sun to warm our bones. Next to the exit of one of the rollercoasters, we found a wooden fence that was in direct sunlight and we placed our frozen hands on the smooth, warm surface—an act that might have been embarrassing if a handful of people didn’t watch and then do the exact same thing.

I am not really a rollercoaster person, as I get motion sick very easily, but there were a good handful of rides inside Dollywood, which kind of surprised me. I opted to try one called Blazing Fury, which was fun and relatively mellow (and inside where it was warm), and while I enjoyed it, my hands shook for about an hour afterward, because I am very cool and brave.

Later on, my mom and sister rode both the Dragonflier and the Tennessee Tornado, the latter of which had three loops (because they actually are very cool and brave), and I contently sat on a bench reading the map and drinking my water—my happy place.

Throughout the day, we tried to hit everything. We toured the Chasing Rainbows museum, which paid homage to Dolly’s entire career thus far; we walked around on her tour bus, which was beautiful and roomy; we rode the coal fired train; we awed at the model of her tiny, Tennessee mountain home, where she grew up with her parents and eleven siblings; and we perused the rows of artisans participating in the annual harvest festival, which had the entire park decked out in fall and Halloween décor. Once the sun went down, we took a final walk through the beautifully lit decorations that now came to life with new character and attitude, and then we got back on the tram and headed back to the hotel for some dinner, another hot shower, and a cozy night in.  

Our Epic October Trip (Part 1: Texas)

Sometime around mid-May, I mapped out a trip on my computer. Things were starting to open back up again, restrictions were being lifted due to the increasing availability of the vaccine, and I wanted to get the HECK out of town.

At first, it started as a crazy idea. A whirlwind. Practically a tour—if we were a small indie band just starting out. But when I laid out the plan for my mom and sister, they were in, without hesitation.

So, we booked it. Five flights (which would turn into eight by the end due to connections and layovers), four states, and almost two full weeks’ worth of vacation. We booked it for October, which, at the time, felt like it was forever away.

But then, on Tuesday October 20th, as I clocked out of work and drove home, I realized that we’d finally made it. Our flight to Texas was at 9:30 the next morning.

I also realized I should probably finish packing.

Packing, to me, is like chess. I try to make everything fit perfectly, in the most neat and organized fashion, and I aim to wear every single thing that I pack. I pack as if you could “win” packing. As if someone will be waiting for me when I return home and hand me an award. But then, while I’m actually on the vacation, I tend to inexplicably hate most everything I pack, and so I impulsively buy an emotional support sweatshirt, which makes my suitcase bulky and unorganized, thus I have to unpack it immediately upon arriving home or I will spontaneously combust.

Other than that, I’m a pretty chill traveler.

I know the lay of the land. I’m the one who has the flight number on hand and will check our bags and print our boarding passes. I’m the one who has a miscellaneous assortment of snacks and drugs (i.e., Benadryl, Dramamine and Advil) in my purse. I am a mom traveler—alert, prepared and with no time to take any shit, and I thrive in that environment.

The purpose of this trip was mostly to visit family. Since we hadn’t seen hardly anyone throughout the whole of 2020, this was practically a revenge vacation. It was our chance to see everyone and everything that we missed—plus a few fun bonuses along the way.

Our first stop was Dallas Fort Worth, where we were set to visit our surrogate grandparents, Jim and June—who I wrote about in this post.

If I’m being honest, it was the stop I was most nervous about.

In years past, my mom, sister and I had taken multiple trips a year to Arkansas to visit my great aunt Evelyn and Jim and June, as well as my cousin Brittney and her family. Arkansas was (and is) our happy place. It was where we found we could truly relax. It was a home away from home—the “home” sometimes being interchangeable in a way that we were at times unsure where we belonged more. A few years ago however, aunt Evelyn passed away. She hadn’t been doing well for a little while, and we’d been visiting as often as we could, staying with Jim and June whenever we were in town. The last time we were there, it had been for Aunt Evelyn’s funeral and June worried that we wouldn’t come back.

“You’ll come back and visit me, won’t you?” she asked us.

Us four girls always had the best time together. Sometimes I felt like we were a little bit too much for Jim, but he was always a good sport, going about his routine while we sat around talking and giggling for hours.

“Of course, we will,” we said. But no matter how many times we said it, I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t believe us. She had no idea how much we loved her. How fondly we spoke about her back home. How quickly we wanted to come back every time we left.

Since we’d last seen them, Jim and June had moved to Texas to live with their daughter Shannon, since it was no longer safe for them to live on their own. And while we were excited to finally see them, we couldn’t help but wonder what toll the move and the past two years had had on them. Selfishly, we wanted them to be exactly the same, to be everything we remembered so this visit wouldn’t be hard or sad. But no matter what we were walking into, we wanted June to know that we’d kept our promise, for her to know that we’d made it back to her as quick as we could, and to tell her that we loved her.

On Thursday morning, after spending the night at our hotel, we drove over to Shannon’s house to spend the day with them. Upon walking in, it was clear that June had lost a lot of weight and was struggling with her vision, and if Jim recognized us, it was only in short, silent waves. But that didn’t stop us from finding those moments of laughter, of reminiscing, and talking about everything we could think of, just the way we used to in their little house in Arkansas.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, I was so excited to see y’all,” June said as we sat on the couch beside her. My heart swelled.

It had been my Grammie, my mom’s mom, that first met June all the way back in first grade, and they’d always kept in touch, even when Grammie moved to California with her family. As a result, for a long time, for me, June was just a character I occasionally heard about in stories. But then, when we started visiting Aunt Evelyn more frequently, June became a real live person. And after Aunt Evelyn moved into a care facility and we started staying with Jim and June, June became our person.  She became like a third grandma to me and my sister, and a connection to my Grammie for my mom.

So as we sat in Shannon’s living room, talking to June, I couldn’t help but think about that moment in first grade, when June and Grammie walked to school together, not knowing how far this friendship would take them. Thinking about it, I felt like Grammie was in the room with us, along with Aunt Evelyn, each of them sitting in an empty seat on the couch. I ached at the thought that one day June would be sitting with them rather than us; when they will all just be characters in stories I tell my kids one day. But as we got ready to leave and June hugged us each twice, I knew that she’d always be real to us—always be close by, and always be a piece of home that I’d hold on to, no matter where I ended up.

“I love you,” she said as we headed out the door.

“We love you too,” we said.

“You’ll come back and see me, won’t you?”

“Always.”

A Celebration and a Camel

At the beginning of September, a woman named Norma, who went to my church, passed away suddenly. She was the mother of some of my mom’s closest church friends, whom we’d all grown to know over the years, and who, for a long time, was part of our row.

Most Sundays, when we were all in town, one row of the church parking lot was taken up me, my mom, my sister, Norma, and her two daughters, Renee and Rochelle. We then sat together in a row of chairs during service, and afterward we all hugged, updated each other on the recent happenings, and then wished each other well for the upcoming week.

This past weekend, I, along with my mom and sister, attended the celebration of life service for Norma that was hosted at our church. The three of us were asked to help out with food and we were both happy and honored to do so. We arrived a few hours early and promptly took our places putting together finger sandwiches, preparing charcuterie boards and fruit and veggie platters, and sorting and organizing the ridiculously delicious Porto’s bakery pastries. We, alongside a few other wonderful women, worked hard, wanting to make the reception of the service as easy and fulfilling as possible. We wanted the family and friends in attendance to be able to sit down, eat, talk, laugh and reminisce without having to worry about a thing.

At 4:00 p.m., the service ended and the attendees began to move into the banquet hall, some emotional, some talkative, some admittingly starving. The line formed and then it kept coming, and we watched as people filled their plates and sat down together, making the room loud and happy.  Laughter and stories echoed off the walls, making it impossible to decide who to eavesdrop on. People hugged and hung on each other; hands were taken and smiles were given over shoulders; compliments were handed out for outfits, shoes, hats, and makeup; pictures were taken and desserts were passed around.

I stood in the kitchen, along with my fellow ladies, both keeping an eye on the buffet table to see what might need to be refilled, and looking out at the family who so clearly were celebrating Norma’s life.

Not being related to Norma myself, and only really seeing her on Sunday’s, I knew my knowledge of her was few. And yet there were so many faces, glances and expressions, hints of her that I saw around the room in her family and friends. It made me wonder what things they were thinking about, what stories they felt they had to share with the people around them, and what memories they were holding on to that, to them, were who Norma was.

In the decorations around the room, I saw pictures, trinkets and mementos. I saw Norma’s favorite candies and her collection of Precious Moments figurines. She existed so purely in the room, and in the hearts of everyone who came to remember her, that by the end of the night, I felt like I’d met her all over again, and gotten to know her deeper than I ever would have.

I watched as her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren loved on each other, how they made each other laugh, drove each other crazy and gave each other purpose, and I thought, isn’t it amazing how one person can bring this many people, this many hearts, this many worlds into one room to be together, and to celebrate life. And it made me feel grateful to Norma, for reminding me how much love exists in the world to find, and how much love has already found me.

At the end of the night, I, alongside anyone else who wanted to, got to take home one of Norma’s Precious moments collectibles. I chose a little figurine of a camel. When I got home, I put the little guy on a shelf in my room, next to my own collection of sand that I have stored in glass bottles. Looking at them side by side, it’s as if they’d always belonged together. And even though I never got to know Norma for all of her colors, or in the way that her family did, I feel special knowing that I’ll always have a little piece of her, and thus a little bit of that love she created, here with me.

I Hope 30 Loves You as Much as I Do

In the fall of my sophomore year of high school, I showed up to the annual softball tryouts as a “returner.” Having made the team as a freshman, my spot was already reserved, so I was just there to volunteer my time, meet prospective players, and, along with my teammates, be the butt of the playful jokes the coaches made to lighten the mood.

I was far more relaxed than I’d been the previous year, but I was still very quiet and shy. I was the most teenager. With awkward style, awkward body awareness and a tendency to blush at even the slightest bit of attention. But I was friendly and polite, and excited to meet the new girls.

Among those girls, was Allison Roecker.

As quickly as I met Allison, she was my friend. One day we’d never heard of each other, and the next we were chatting daily on AIM. Then we were texting, sleeping over at each other’s houses, sending longwinded personal emails, writing notes during class, and staying up late talking about things like death, love and the future. Soon enough I wasn’t calling her Allison, but Alleeson (because I wanted her to have double e’s like me) and Alfred von Roecker for reasons lost to history.

High school, for me, was tough. It was scary, and there was a lot happening behind the scenes. To compensate, I dove into schticks. I let myself be defined by foods I liked, jokes I told, and characteristics that I played up and hid behind in the hopes that no one would see how lost and confused I was. How scared and vulnerable and sad. And a lot of people leaned in to those schticks. They believed they were me, they took and/or got what they wanted off the surface and didn’t take the time to dig deeper. But not Allison.

From day one, Allison created a safe place for me to be me. Whoever that might be at the time. And 15 years later, that safe place still exists and is stronger than ever.

Sometimes, when we get together for drinks or dinner or just an evening spent talking on the couch, I catch myself sharing and sharing, talking about myself as if I haven’t told anyone anything in days or months or years. I bring up questions and worries and I let them settle in the room, where they don’t feel intrusive or burdening, but safe and accepted. And I always walk away feeling lighter, more understood, more seen and heard than I do almost anywhere and with anyone else.

We bring it up often. How it would seem that we were destined for each other. Our friendship has scaled great distances, multiple moves, heartbreak, tragedy, success, failure and absolute joy. But as far as our friendship dates back, I can’t for the life of me remember how exactly it started.

I often wonder what we said to each other in the moment that we met. Did we shake hands, hug, or smile politely as we stood in a circle stretching during warm up? What did we do to begin a friendship that would withstand time, distance and the chaos of growing up? How casually did we introduce ourselves, not knowing that we’d help each other get to know ourselves in the years to come?

However it went down, I’m just glad it did. Because I don’t know where I’d be without her.

Tomorrow, Allison turns 30, joining me in a club that at times feels weird to be a part of.

In a way, it feels like we were just on that softball field, passing inside jokes back and forth in the outfield, laughing so hard it hurt at 2 o’clock in the morning, and singing our hearts out on the highway after I got my driver’s license. But then I think of everything we’ve been through, everything we’ve learned, everything we’ve tried and failed and everything we’ve achieved, and I think, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

So, Allison, while 30 might seem scary (though it’s not too bad, I promise!) just know that you have nothing to worry about. Because I met you when you were only halfway to 30, and you changed my life forever. So I can only imagine where you’ll go, where we’ll go, from here.

Happy birthday! I love you!