journal

This Thanksgiving, Right Now

At Thanksgiving time, it’s common practice to take note of what you’re thankful for. It helps pull you into the present moment, as we often spend too much time looking ahead—looking for what’s next.

Thanksgiving says, look at everything you have right now and worry about the future later. Which is good. But lately I’ve been worrying about the future in a different way.

Growing up, the future has always promised more. More freedom, more understanding, more confidence, more love, more friends, more money, more adventure, etc. Everything that hasn’t happened yet can only happen in the future, so it seems the future is the place you always want to be.

I know that I’ve reached for (and relied upon) the future, hoping it has answers and solutions that I’ve long awaited. Hoping it holds happy endings to the stories I’m writing in my life. But I also worry (and know) that it will hold things I’m not ready for. Things I’ll want to trade everything to be back on this side of.

Sometimes when I think about the future, I think of everything I will have to give up to get there. And while I look forward to the people, places and things that await me in the years to come, I hope they know (and I remember) what I’m sacrificing to reach them. I’m not just giving up the hard parts and the unanswered questions. I’m giving up all the little, magical things that exist in my day to day that I might not even notice—things I won’t miss until their gone; I’m giving up all of the unique peace that exists in between the current chaos I want to move past; and I’m giving up the naivety that exists in this world before the hard parts that lie ahead.

I’ve been through hard parts in my life. I’ve gone through good seasons and bad ones. And when I look back on the times before the bad seasons, I long for those last few moments of innocence and ignorance. But then I remember all of the good things I didn’t know, all of the magic I was yet to discover, and I feel an appreciation for those hard times and where they have brought me.

The same might be true of what is to come. And I look forward to all of the life I will get the chance to live. But for today, I’m trying to be thankful for what I have right now. The people that are around me, the place I live, the way I feel, what I’m hoping for and working towards, what the world looks like, and the things that make me smile, laugh and clap my hands. Everything that defines this Thanksgiving, this year.

If I’m lucky, I will have many Thanksgivings to come. But this is the one and only time I will have this Thanksgiving, the one and only time I will have today, and I want to embrace and exist in it, before it becomes a memory.

So future, while I’m excited to see you, I can wait. For now, I’m good right here.

There are a lot of good things right here.

Setting “Should” Boundaries

A few weeks ago I got a notification informing me that my blog has been active for eight years.

I always take these anniversaries with an asterisk, because technically I started my blog, wrote one post and then forgot about it for an entire year. BUT it was that decision to start it eight years ago that got me here today, so I’ll take the celebrations as they come.

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you might know that I have a tendency to be very anxious. This is something I’ve always known about myself, but have been slowly unpacking the depth of for about, well, the last eight years.

The best way I can describe it is that I once felt like a knot made up of hundreds of other knots. And I was just walking around, rigid and terrified, but not sure why or how I got like that. But then, slowly, one by one, I’ve started to untie those knots, and with each release comes relief, wonder and understanding. I wouldn’t necessarily call it easy, but it is worth it.

One of those knots that’s recently been bothering me is the word should. And, of course, it’s brother, shouldn’t.

The most basic understanding we are given as children is right and wrong, and thus, should and shouldn’t. But somewhere along the way, these defining directives branch out into areas of our lives that are not so easily understood as black and white. And for me, these words became near biblical in their intensity, outlining each and every minute of my day.

I should eat this, I should wear this, I should say this, I should call her, I should let that go, I should exercise, I shouldn’t eat that, I should go to bed, I shouldn’t watch television, I should be a better friend, I shouldn’t think about that, I should try this, I should stop doing that, I shouldn’t act like this, I shouldn’t feel like that, I should be more of this and less of that.

For a long time, I rationalized my obsession with these words as guidelines—parameters that would allow me to have a good day and thus, live a good life. But recently I’ve realized that these words bring more anxiety to my life than joy, and that I haven’t just been trying to hold myself accountable, I’ve been demanding perfection, and not just my definition of it, but everyone’s.

In doing so, the should’s and shouldn’t’s constantly clashed, not knowing whose standard I should be held to, for how long and for what reason. I was trying to be too many things at once, trying to impress too many people who never would have even noticed, and trying to prevent myself from making a single mistake.

I was living in a very “everyone except me” mindset, in that everyone was allowed to make mistakes, have bad days, get lost, feel sad, and be lazy except me. Because I thought I didn’t deserve that grace. I needed to prove myself. I needed to meet the expectation—everyone’s expectation—even when no one was looking.

This was (and is) a very tangly knot.

There are a lot of things that tie (pun intended) into this mindset. A lot of things I have to both learn and unlearn from past experiences. But I am relieved to find the clarity that it’s not the way I have to live.

And it’s not the way you have to live either.

I am trying to set “should” boundaries.

When a should question comes up, I’m asking why?

Should I do_____

Should I say _______

Should I change ________

Why?

Is it because I want to? Because I think it could help me, encourage me, inspire me, or make me feel better?

Or is it because I think it’s what other people expect of me, what society or social media demands of me, or because I don’t think I’m good enough as I am?

Other people—friends, family and strangers alike—can come into play in these questions, and so I know it can’t always be as simple as “do I want to do this?” But when I’m sitting on my couch on a weeknight, wanting to watch television; when I wake up on a Saturday morning, later than everyone else; when I don’t want to go out or have a drink or do what everyone else is doing; when my mind starts to spiral, turning a simple preference, habit or decision into a reason that people are going to be mad at me, reject me or leave me behind—that’s when I know I have to set a “should” boundary.

I am allowed to do the “wrong” thing, the thing that is not the healthiest or the most productive or the most popular. I am allowed to have bad days where I don’t say the right thing or I can’t express how I’m feeling or I just want to be alone. And on the flip side of things, I am allowed to make healthy choices, even when everyone else isn’t, even when it seems uncool or slightly pretentious—this doesn’t mean I’m judging them, it just means I’m doing what makes me feel good.

The bottom line of it all reminds me that I am living my life and everyone else is living theirs. I am the only person living inside my body and feeling my feelings, so I am the only one that can truly understand the benefits and consequences of the should’s and shouldn’t’s that come my way. So I can’t ask myself to be perfect—especially to everyone. I can’t even ask myself to be liked by everyone. I can only ask myself to be honest, and sometimes a little brave.

When I created my blog eight years ago, my mind was swarming with shouldn’t’s, but I did the unthinkable at the time and listened to the single, solitary should that sat inside me. And I’ve never regretted it.

So thanks for giving me a safe place to untangle these knots. I’ve still got a long way to go, but the load gets lighter every day!

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.

The Pants Can’t Do Everything

Confession: I like online shopping.

The ease. The convenience. The ability to make fun mail arrive on my doorstep. It is wonderful.

But sometimes I use shopping—or perhaps, the items I shop for—in a way that I shouldn’t. I pretend that shopping will solve my problems or make me feel better when it won’t. I try to shop my way to somewhere, something or someone, hoping a certain pair of pants, sweater, t-shirt, jean jacket, pair of shoes, book, journal, coffee mug or eyeshadow palette will do all the leg work for me.

Do you know what I mean?

Sometimes I feel down or lonely or out of sorts and I will have a certain struggle on my mind, but rather than actively working through that struggle, rather than talking to a friend, exercising, journaling, meditating, going for a walk, reading my bible, or just sitting in the struggle as it works itself out, I will shop.

I will look at prayer journals, assuming that if I buy that journal, I will become a better, more productive prayer and I will strengthen my relationship with God.

I will look at running shorts and assume that if I can find them in my size, I will improve my mile time and get in incredible shape and finally be proud and comfortable in my body.

I will look at shoes and imagine myself strutting confidently, my introversion thrown out the window. I will look at t-shirts and imagine myself casual and cool, someone people admire and envy and wish they could be like. I will look at makeup and imagine I am as beautiful as all the girls I see in the magazines. I will look at blazers and imagine myself at the top of the corporate ladder, financially stable, with the ability to travel anywhere at any time.

I rely on objects to make me a different person, rather than giving myself time to grow into the person that I actually am. And oftentimes the girl I’m picturing in all of these fantasies, the girl who stars in all of the daydreams that convince me to add to cart, is not me at all. She is a version of me that I’ve convinced myself is “the right” version. The version that the media has deemed pretty, successful, worthy, etc. So when the packages arrive full of clothes and things that are supposed to fit her, they don’t fit me. I don’t like the way they look or maybe a part of me is just disappointed that my daydream didn’t come true. That even though I have these new shoes, I’m still unhappy or lonely. Or even though I bought that eyeshadow palette, that relationship didn’t pan out the way I hoped it would. Even though I bought this or subscribed to that, I am still me, in the same place, with all the same struggles.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with shopping. There’s nothing wrong with buying something that you want, that makes you feel good and inspires you to go out there, try new things and better yourself. There’s also nothing wrong with manifestation. With buying something that can help you picture a specific dream and can help motivate you to chase it.

What I’m doing is shopping in place of feeling. In place of listening to what I really need and want—even though in the moment it might seem like what I both want and need is that pair of leggings THAT ARE ON SALE.  I want to stop shopping under the assumption that buying something is the same as doing something or trying something.

Buying running shorts won’t make me a better runner. Running will.

Buying a journal won’t create a daily journaling habit for me. Journaling daily will.

I have to put in the work to make what I buy capable of fulfilling what I dreamt it could.

I have to be the person in the shoes or the pants or the dress and I have to appreciate how I wear them, not wish they turned me into someone else.

I have to live my own life, my things can’t do that for me.

So maybe I don’t need those pants today. Maybe I just need to take a deep breath and figure out what it is I really want—and then go out and get it.

Trust that the Ground is There

There have been a couple blog posts in the past where I mentioned not only my love for yoga, but especially Yoga with Adriene hosted by Adriene Mishler on both YouTube and her website Find What Feels Good—both of which I would recommend.

In taking her classes for the last year and a half or so, I have learned so much about breath, about my body and about yoga that have helped me feel inspired, empowered and calm in some very not so calm times.

One phrase that has stuck with me since the moment I first heard it, and has grown deeper and deeper in my mind ever since is: trust that the ground is there.

There have been many classes and videos I have watched of Adriene’s where she says this. Oftentimes it will come when our feet are stepped wide and we are moving into a new posture that requires our feet to be together.

“If you can,” Adriene will say, “don’t look down at your feet. Trust that the ground is there and step your feet together.”

At first, this seemed kind of funny to me. I mean, of course the ground is there. I could feel it underneath my feet. But then, when I heard her say this in the context of more complex poses, and I feared I might fall, I noticed my instinct to look down. To look at my feet to help me center myself and stay balanced. Because seeing the ground, seeing where I was standing, what I was doing, and checking back in with my foundation, helped me feel safe.

After a while however, when I would gain confidence in a pose, or practice consistently at the transitions between them, this need to look down went away. I felt stronger, more balanced, and I didn’t have to double check that my feet were sturdy, or that the ground was holding me up. I could just keep moving, having faith in my foundation and pursuing my next challenge.

In thinking about this outside of yoga, I noticed that there are so many habits I’ve formed in the hopes of holding my balance or keeping myself “safe”—whether it be from getting hurt, being rejected, embarrassing myself, standing out, or just making a mistake. I’ll stay quiet when I have something to say, I’ll stay home instead of going out, I’ll hide behind friends and family, and I’ll agree with opinions that don’t necessarily align with mine.

I will look down rather than look forward. I will hide in the safety of invisibility rather than allow my self-confidence and self-awareness to grow, because sometimes I still feel like I need to ask for permission or reassurance that who I am is okay; that I’m worthy of acceptance, success, love, etc; or that I can say no (or yes) to things without feeling lame or uncool or a burden on others’ fun/lives.

I am still learning to trust my foundation. That the ground is there. And that I can walk into each day knowing that I’ve put in a lot of work to discover who I am, why I’m here and what I’m capable of.

And while sometimes I still might fall—I might make a mistake or say the wrong thing or get hurt—the ground will catch me, and I can get up and try again. So I will continue to take steps forward, to try on new postures and poses without looking down, all the while growing and finding more balance on the ground I’m standing on.

Take time to find faith in your foundation. It is no easy feat to build, but it will only get stronger with time. Take deep breaths and, when you can, try not to look down. The ground is always there, and it will catch you if you fall.  In the meantime, let it build you up.

The One Question I Keep Asking Myself

When I was little, I was often asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I was in high school, I was often asked what I was going to study in college.

When I was in college, I was often asked what my plans were after graduation.

When I reached my mid-twenties, I was often asked when I was going to get married.

And now that I sit at almost 31, unmarried and with no kids, I know I still have a lot of questions to come.

I used to believe that once I got the answer to these questions, I would have lived (or be living) a successful life. But then, as each question slowly got answered, I was disappointed to find that another one was always waiting right behind it. And each one got bigger and scarier and more life defining.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the intention behind these questions. They are shortcuts into getting to know someone. They are milestones that connect people. But I have also felt the pressure of these questions. Of entering a conversation and immediately feeling uncomfortable, praying that I won’t be asked the questions I don’t have an answer to yet, because they make me feel like less of an adult, or even, less of a person. I feel like a failure for not having reached some of the major milestones that my friends, family or some random stranger has, and I spiral into self-doubt and self-hatred, wishing I could change parts of my life that have made me intrinsically me.

And so, I have tried to start asking myself better questions. Mainly one in particular.

For me, right now, I am single and entering into the second year of my thirties. I am a rarity among my friend group, with no boyfriend, fiancé or husband, and no kids. I have worked the same job for over a decade that is not related to the field I studied in college, and I don’t really have a long term “career” path in mind. But that doesn’t make me a failure. It doesn’t make me less of an adult or less of a woman or less of a person. It just makes my path different than theirs.

So, a question I’ve tried to start asking myself is: what can I learn here?

Because one day, I won’t be single. One day I will have kids. One day I will have a new job. One day I will live in a new place. One day my life will look completely different than it does today, and yet, people will still have their questions, I will still have my fears, and there will still be reasons for me to wonder if I’m doing any of this right.

But right now, I’m here. And I believe I’m here for a reason. There are still things for me to learn, people for me to meet, ideas to form, conversations to be had, moments to be experienced and choices to be made. And so I focus on the question that has to do with where I am, not where people want me to go, or where everyone else seems to be.

What can I learn here? I ask.

And in asking, I find myself trying. I find myself searching my surroundings, noticing slow magic, and finding joy in small things that otherwise would have been missed.

What can I learn here? I ask.

And in asking I find potential. I learn more about myself, about what I like to do, what I want to do, and what I’m capable of doing.

What can I learn here? I ask.

And in asking I find peace. Memories long buried turn over in my head, unfelt feelings rise to the surface and new understandings dawn.

When I ask myself what more there is for me to find and learn exactly where I am, I better appreciate that place—this place—rather than wish it into the past in favor of checking off an item on a list, or staying on track with lives and paths that aren’t mine.

There will always be questions, and that’s okay. If there are more questions to ask, that means there is more life to live. But I’m trying to stay focused on one question, as it’s the only one that keeps me present and moves me forward at the same time.

What can I learn here? I ask, and the answers abound.

A Name for Smoggy Days

Yesterday was a smoggy day.

Sure, in Los Angeles, it’s smoggy most days. But that’s not the smog I’m talking about.

Some days I wake up feeling low. Sad. Or what I like to describe as “heavy.” It’s when every worry, insecurity, and regret seem to be sitting on top of me, making it hard to think straight, feel comfortable, or find motivation. There is a haze that blocks the blue sky. And it’s hard to breathe the fresh air that was there yesterday.

I’ve long looked for something to call these days. Because often when they pop up, I don’t know how to explain them to others. I sit quietly, talk politely, walk slowly, and fidget nervously, all while fighting through the chaos and lies that are spiraling in my mind. On particularly bad ones, I feel fragile. As if I might burst into tears at any given moment. And I don’t know how to explain that it’s not you, it’s me. I’m playing offense and defense in a battle that is taking place inside my head, and I’m not sure if I want help, privacy, attention or solace.

When I was in high school, I remember having a handful of smoggy days that I didn’t really understand. My mind was in overdrive and I wanted validation. I wanted to be told I was wonderful and beautiful and absolutely crazy to be thinking these negative thoughts. But when I reached out to a friend, spitting self-deprecating venom, fishing begging for compliments and expecting them, I got nothing. I got crickets. I got, “I don’t know what to say when you’re like this.”

I don’t mention this to blame them, because they were just as young and lost as I was. But I remember the guilt that was born in that moment.

The guilt that comes in with the smog. The shame that sits on top of everything else. Telling me that I should be embarrassed for feeling so low. For bringing people down. For not being my best. It tells me to get over it. And it promises that if I don’t I will push everyone away.

And so the smog suffocates. And for a little while, it wins.

For a little while I am low. I am sad. I am quiet. I am scared. I am not myself.

But then the wind comes.

A friend. A movie. A book. A butterfly. A sunset. A tall tree. A child’s laugh. A kind word. A joke that lands in just the right place. A hug. A moment alone. An unexpected deep breath. A combination of a lot of little things. And eventually, a breeze picks up. And then a gust. And soon the smog is blown away and I can see the sky again. I can breathe the fresh air.  

It doesn’t last forever. Eventually the smog settles back in and piles back up. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the more I talk about it, the more opportunities I give to that wind, the more public I make these battles that thrive in private, the better I set myself up to win.

And I’m hoping the same can go for you.

We all have smoggy days. Maybe even smoggy seasons. And sometimes we just need a name for it all.

We might not know what we need from others. We might not want extra attention or to give a longwinded explanation of everything we’re thinking about. Sometimes we just need a name. Something that can explain where we are when we aren’t ourselves.

So if you’re looking for a name, have mine. And remember, it’s okay to have smoggy days. It’s okay to not be your best. It’s okay if you get knocked down. As long as you get back up and keep fighting.

Open a window and let that breeze in. Take a good look at the blue sky. Take a deep breath of that fresh air. You are okay.