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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.

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.

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.

My Year in Pictures (List-cember #7)

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

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

Here are some of my favorites:

1) The Band

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

2) Kobe

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

3) Persimmons

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

4) The Quarantine Collection

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

5) Home Gym

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

6) Cousin Quarantine Olympics

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

7) The beach

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

8) Backyard Dinners

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

9) Neo

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

10) Defeated

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

11) Celebrity

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

12) The Notch

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

13) Solvang Waterfall

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

14) The Jump

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

15) Baking Cookies

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


Check out more List-cember posts here.

There is More

Since I have been lucky enough to continue going into the office for work, I am among the (far fewer) commuters in the morning and afternoon. And lately on my way home, I have been taking the freeway a few exits past my own, and then driving up and down the side streets around my neighborhood, just listening to music and decompressing. I like looking at the different houses—especially the front doors, I love a pop of color on a front door—and seeing which roads wind into each other, which ones dead end, and which go up into the hills.

I also like driving around and finding the little spots that hold memories for me, some good, some bad, some from over a decade ago, and some from only a few months before everything shut down.

I can drive down the street where the food trucks park on Friday nights, where my cousin once jogged down the very windy, cold street to get a churro for us to split before the cart closed.

I can drive past the pancake restaurant my friends and I use to eat at once a week in high school, before we spent the night driving around blasting music—sometimes with added choreography.

I can drive past the front lawn where I saw the boy I liked take prom pictures with another girl.

I can drive past the park where I ate cake with my best friend the week before she moved away.

I can drive past the house with the orange tree out front, where my grandparents use to live and my papa used to let me sit on his lap while he pulled into the driveway.

On some streets I can hear myself laughing so hard with my friends that I can’t breathe; on other streets I can feel the heaviness of a hard day and hear the sad songs carrying me home; and on some streets I think of a specific person, specific food, specific weather pattern or specific song for reasons I can’t remember anymore.

More than anything, the driving around reminds me that the world is still out there. It reminds me that I’m alive—that I’ve lived a life. And it gives me hope that I still have lots of life left to live.

There are more memories to make out there, more spots to claim pieces of my mind and my memory. There is more than what I see from inside my house, more than what I feel inside my own head, and more than what we hear on the news or social media. There is more out there and we will find it.

How to Make 2020 Memorable (In A Good Way)

This past weekend I was sitting on the beach with some family, listening to music and watching the sunset, when my cousin Amanda posed a question.

I know that 2020 hasn’t been great, but I think we should each try and think of something that we’d like to do by the end of the year to make our year positive and memorable.

We each took the question in, and then went back to the music. We hummed and danced and occasionally used anything close by as a microphone, all while letting that question twist and turn in our minds.

I had a particularly hard time coming up with an answer, which surprised me, especially because I am such a goal oriented person. But even when ideas and answers were brought up—like seeing a drive in movie or going to the Grand Canyon—my mind still drew a blank.

At one point, I lay my head back on my towel and looked up at the sky.

“Look!” I said, pointing up at the now dark, starry sky, “I think that’s the big dipper!”

The group looked and excitedly agreed and then eventually fell back into swing with the music, this time with the intent to “get our cardio in,” which mostly meant jumping up and down in time with the music, running around our spot on the beach—which was by that time was completely dark and empty except for us and our little electric lantern—spinning with our arms out and our heads tilted up towards the sky, anything that made us feel good, got our hearts racing a little faster, and gave us an excuse to eat an ice cream cone later.

On the drive home (which did include an ice cream cone) I still thought about the question. I was the only one to not give an answer. But when I got home and I relived the afternoon and evening in my head, and I looked at the pictures we’d taken of the sunset and the videos of us singing and dancing around our speaker, I realized why I had struggled so much.

This year has been tough for all of us—in ways we all understand and in ways only you and me can understand. I have had obstacles and hardships you haven’t and vice versa. This year will forever be memorable, but it is not over yet, and sometimes I feel like I’m in survival mode, hiding and waiting until it is.

But just as I wrote in this blog post a little while back, and just as Amanda brought up on the beach, there are still ways we can make this year good. There are still things we can gain from 2020 that we might not have had the time, energy, or inspiration to in any other year.

So I encourage you (and me, because I still haven’t thought of an answer) to think about a way you’d like to make 2020 memorable. It doesn’t have to be big or extravagant or expensive, it just has to be something that gives you that good feeling—like sitting on the beach with people you love and singing Celine Dion into a shoe microphone.

The goodness of 2020 is still up for grabs, and I think it’s about time we went out and found it.

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If you have any ideas for how you want to make your 2020 memorable, please leave them in the comments! We could all use some inspiration. white-smiling-face_263a

Things to Do with Alexa in Quarantine

Since we live in a time that is full of technological companions (e.g. Alexa, Siri, Google Home, etc.) and many of us might be finding ourselves with little more than their company these days, I think it’s about time we start utilizing them to their full potential.

This past weekend, as my sister and I were sitting on the couch eating donuts we ordered from our local shop, we decided to talk to Alexa. After buying our Amazon Echo about three years ago, I started getting weekly emails from Amazon that provide a list of fun prompts that you can give Alexa, but I’ve more or less ignored them—until now.

Note: if you have a Google Home, check out both this article and this one for prompts. If you have Siri, check out both this article and this one, and if you have neither, I’d recommend Facetime, Zoom, or, if all else fails, this:

No judgment, times are weird.

Anyway, here are some of our favorite things you can do with Alexa:

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Play Jeopardy

Say: “Alexa, play Jeopardy.”

Each day you are given 12 trivia questions that you have to answer Jeopardy style (what is, where is, who is, etc.) Weekdays you are given extra questions from the same categories showcased in that day’s televised episode, and then Saturdays are College Jeopardy and Sundays (my favorite!) are Sports Jeopardy.

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Play Puzzle of the Day

Say: “Alexa, open Puzzle of the day.”

This is a crossword puzzle that you play in the style of a word game since you don’t have a paper in front of you. Alexa gives you a clue and the number of letters in the answer, and then you try to guess it. If you have trouble, you are able to ask for a letter, but you lose points by doing so—which may not matter to you, or may matter more than anything. I land somewhere in the middle.

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Make Fart Noises

Say: “Alexa, make a fart noise.”

I will just leave this one here.

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Look up the Spelling and/or Definition of a word

Say: “Alexa, spell ______” or “Alexa, what is the definition of _______”

Sure, I could Google it, but she does it faster, and asking almost makes me feel like I’m back in high school with no responsibilities or pandemics to speak of.

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Set a Reminder

Say: “Alexa, remind me to______.”

If you’re working from home, it might be hard to find a good routine, which makes it easy to forget to do things like drink enough water, or take necessary medications, or stop looking at Instagram. That’s where Alexa can come in as an accountability partner. Set reminders, as many as you want, about anything you want. Maybe it’s to put on pants, maybe it’s to refill your water bottle, maybe it’s to go outside, maybe it’s to move to a different section of the couch so you can blob evenly. Whatever you need, she’s there to remind you.

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Use Announce and/or Simon Says

Both of these functions make Alexa repeat something that is being said.

If you say, “Alexa, announce it is time for lunch,” she will play back a recording of you saying, “it’s time for lunch.”

But if you say, “Alexa, simon says it’s time for lunch,” Alexa will say, “it’s time for lunch.”

So it’s really your preference on that one. If you’ve ever wanted to actually hear yourself talk to yourself, now is your chance. Or if you’re someone who lives alone and needs a voice other than your own to whip you into shape, Alexa can do that for you. Again, no judgment.

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Learn Something Weird

Say, “Alexa, tell me something weird.”

Then strap in.

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Hear a 20-second song

Say, “Alexa, sing a song for twenty seconds.”

It has been a widely spread recommendation to (constantly) wash your hands for (at least) twenty seconds. In an effort to make that easier, people have been on the hunt for songs and choruses of songs that are approximately that long so we can get a better idea of the timing. But please look no further than your Alexa, who will sing you a song that (at least when I’ve asked) rhymes and lasts exactly 20 seconds. Also, good luck not having that song stuck in your head.