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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!

Our Olympic Moment

Yesterday marked the end of the 2020/2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. While I am sad to see them go, I’m sure my sleep schedule is very grateful. There were a lot of nights spent staying up late on the couch, watching hours and hours of recorded events, cheering—sometimes screaming—on not only Team USA, but all of the Olympians that worked so hard to get there.

I lived for the stories of where and what brought a particular athlete to the Olympics, and the delight their families took in watching them compete—even if they had to do it from home. There is something so special about the Olympics. It brings people together all over the world to appreciate and celebrate sports, and the amazing things the human body and human spirit can accomplish.

The Tokyo Olympics introduced four new sports this year: surfing, skateboarding, karate and sport climbing. Of these, my family, and especially my brother, was most excited to watch sport climbing. As an avid and gifted climber himself, it was clear how thrilled he was to not only watch the best of the best compete, but to see his passion celebrated at an elite level and introduced to people all over the world.

The schedule of events was a little hard to follow from California, as Tokyo is 16 hours ahead. Thus, I filled my DVR, taping anything and everything I could find, and would sift through my recordings at the end of each day. But when it came time for the sport climbing to start (which was Tuesday morning PST) my brother made it clear that he wanted to watch at least one of the finals live. On Tuesday 8/3, the men competed in the qualifying round and the women followed on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, the men competed in the final round, with the women to follow on Friday. So, with Saturday as a recovery cushion, we decided to watch the women’s sport climbing final on Friday morning. Mind you, they started at 1:30 am.

So, at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday night, my sister, Natalee, and I drove to our parents’ house, where we got comfortable on the couch and caught up on the primetime coverage from that day. Then my brother, Troy, and I ensured that everything was set up to watch the climbing before we all set an alarm for 1:20 a.m. and went to sleep.

Earlier in the day, I had taken an hour nap in preparation for what I knew would be a late night, and that, in combination with the excitement of the women’s final (which featured American Brooke Raboutou) buzzing in my mind, made it difficult for me to fall asleep. I lay there on the living room couch, perpendicular to my sister who slept in the recliner, still but not sleeping. Come about 1:15 a.m. though, just before Troy walked back into the living room from his bedroom, I could feel the pull of deep sleep just beyond my reach. But I pushed it away, sat up, and turned on the television. My brother took his place next to me, his hands anxious and ready to mime the holds he might use to complete the climbs; my mom wiped her eyes and stood up, and then walked into the kitchen and turned on the oven—she was making 1:30 a.m. cinnamon rolls; and my sister sat her seat up straight and clapped her hands.

We were ready.

The first round of competition was speed climbing. Eight women, strong and incredibly talented, powered up the rock wall, racing in pairs. We were excited, but very aware of the time of night, so our cheers were kept to whispers, but they remained passionate.

The second round of competition was bouldering. Inside this second discipline, there were three boulder problems the climbers had to solve, and they were each given four minutes for each try. I’ll admit, by the third round, which started at about 3:45 a.m., we were all starting to fade. We always perked up and came to attention when Brooke was climbing, but we were all long past our prime of pulling all-nighters, so as the sunrise snuck closer, our bodies couldn’t help but ask, wtf are you doing?!

By the time the bouldering ended, it was about 4:20 a.m. and the final round of competition didn’t start until 5:10 a.m. So, we turned off all the lights, returned to our designated snoozing spots, and knocked out. This time however, when my brother came in after his alarm went off, I felt confused. I felt upside down. My body was begging, pleading to stay asleep. But we sat back up, reasoning that the summer Olympics only happen once every four years, and this was the first year rock climbing had ever been a part of it. Plus, there’s no telling where life will lead us before the 2024 games in Paris. So while we were tired, we were together and that was reason enough to sit back up, turn the television back on, and head into the final round of competition: lead climbing.

In the end, American climber, Brooke Raboutou, didn’t metal, but, like all of the women competing, she put on an incredible show of talent and determination. I gained so much respect for climbers and their ability to push their body to its absolutely limit. To hold on by literal fingertips and to try again and again and again.

As the sun peaked over the horizon, my sister and I got back in our car and headed home. It was about 6:00 a.m. and the morning commuters were already on the road. Once home, we would collapse back in our beds for a couple hours and then go to work. And even though my eight-hour workday felt like a 90-hour work week, even though at one point I got emotional over a FedEx label, even though I had to go for a three mile walk at 7:00pm just to stay awake long enough to not ruin my chances at a good night’s sleep, it was all worth it.

In a way, I felt like it was our Olympic moment of the games, and it is something I will always remember.

See you next time, Olympians, and as always, you are amazing.

O-Hi It’s My Trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we were there again.

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

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

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

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

Unit 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Had Been a While

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

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

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

It had been a while.

But it felt good to be back.

A Lactose Free Poem for Your Birthday [Repost]

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

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

Happy birthday Natallee!


Natalee my Natalee,

I hope you like this rhyme from me

You’re used to them by now I’d think

So enjoy this one and down a drink

Not too many though because I don’t like barf

I loathe barf like you love a good scarf

Which is why we have 57 in our closet

Okay not really, 58 if I’m honest.

Sometimes I think about burning them all

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

.

Today is a day when we celebrate you

A day that I’ve celebrated since I was two

That year was rough, when you arrived on the scene

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

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

Beautiful actually, smart, compassionate and admirable

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

You’ve made me laugh too many times to count

And made me proud an intangible amount

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

Love you!

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