life

30 Things You Might Need When You Move into a New Place (List-Cember #1)

Hello and happy December!

Each year on my blog I like to dedicate all posts in December to lists, to celebrate what I call List-cember.

It’s a fun, easy way to recap the year and to share some things I’m hoping for in the new year.

As some of you may know, this past September I moved into a new apartment. The first time I’ve ever lived by myself. It was a big adjustment, but one that I think has served me very well.

One thing I learned pretty quickly was that all of the shopping is up to me and only me. I have to remember to buy everything. And I can’t even tell you how many times I opened a cabinet door to realize oh, I don’t have that yet.

Starting fresh in a new place requires you to truly, start fresh. My pantry was empty, my spice cabinet was empty, my refrigerator was empty. I had to start from ground zero.  Which was tough. But it was also kind of exciting to fill the cabinets with things that I want and need, and to see the apartment slowly transform into a place that is truly and uniquely mine.

Still, there were a lot of expensive trips to the grocery store. A lot of tedious purchases that allowed me to get to where I am now. So I thought I’d make a list of all the things I ran into needing in my first few months.

Maybe you’re in the middle of a move, or preparing for one. Maybe you just want advice on things to add to your cart while you’re at the grocery store. This list is not fancy, it is not the end all be all list, or the fancy lists you find at the front of cookbooks that recommend you keep a wheel of parmesan cheese in your refrigerator. These are simply the things I have collected in order to feel like I have a foundation.

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  1. Hand soap (for the kitchen and the bathroom)
  2. Dish soap
  3. Laundry soap
  4. A dish scrubber (be it a sponge, or the bristled kind with a rubber handle)
  5. A toilet scrubber and plunger (they sell them as a set now!)
  6. Clorox disinfecting wipes
  7. Trash bags
  8. A trash can—or maybe a couple (It is really something to sit down and eat amongst the chaos of your moving boxes, only to realize afterward that you have nowhere to put your trash)
  9. Batteries (a small pack of AA & AAA’s will come in handy when you are unpacking and putting stuff together)
  10. A broom and a dustpan
  11. A Brita (or whichever water filtering product you prefer if you don’t like/can’t drink the tap water)
  12. Toilet paper
  13. Paper towels (or dish towels)
  14. Garlic salt
  15. Table salt
  16. Black pepper
  17. The baking party pack (flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract)
  18. The medicine party pack (Advil, Benadryl, Tums)
  19. Olive oil
  20. Butter
  21. Pasta
  22. Rice (I like the “boil in a bag” variety because it gives you individual servings that you can make in 10 minutes)
  23. Your condiment of choice (It is SO SAD to make chicken and have absolutely nothing to put on it. So, pick your poison to have on hand. I will always choose Chick-fil-a sauce.)
  24. Kroger Sweet Chili Sauce (this is a wild card pick. It doesn’t have to be Kroger and it’s not *essential* but one of my favorite go-to meals is a stir fry and this sauce HITS on a stir fry. I prefer it over soy sauce.)
  25. Frozen vegetables (grab a couple bags of broccoli, peas, etc. and you can heat them up with any dish)
  26. Chicken breasts (I like to grab a four pack and then individually bag the chicken breasts before putting them in the freezer, that way I can defrost them one at a time)
  27. Frozen burger patties (You can throw the patty into a sauté pan frozen and it cooks in less then 10 minutes. Makes for a super easy dinner in a pinch)
  28. Hamburger buns (These are also super easy to freeze. If I’m going to make a burger for dinner, I defrost one bun. Easy peasy.)
  29. A loaf of bread (Toast never lets you down. At any meal, snack, or time of day.)
  30. Honey/Jam/Peanut Butter (whatever you want on your toast)

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Like I said, these are the basics.

Maybe these are just *my* basics.

But hey, they work for me. And now, when I’m putting together a lazy meal, I have the things I need.

Have anything you would recommend for this list? Feel free to share!

Have any harsh opinions or judgement of my list? Feel free not to share!

If you are preparing for, in the middle of, or in the aftermath of a move, I wish you luck, organization, sanity, peace and a solid foundation. It will all come your way in time.

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If you want to read more list-cember posts, you can check them out here.

My Least Favorite Question

There is one question that haunts my dreams. One question that I have tried to master my entire life, but still find myself quaking in its presence. This question rattles me to my core, it can make me reconsider absolutely everything in my life, and can even make me want to stand up from a conversation and run all the way home.

This question is: What’s new?

Meant as a breezy conversation starter and a ticket to deeper connection, to me this question often feels more like a challenge. It asks, “what have you been doing with your time since I last saw you—I hope it’s impressive!”

I once had someone say, “So, what’s new? And DON’T say nothing.”

In one sense, I understand what they meant. If I say, “nothing”, or its neighbor, “not much, how about you?” the conversation takes on a staleness that is hard to break out of. It’s polite and awkward and feels more like playing a robotic game of catch rather than a leisurely round of catch up. I get that, and if I was the one starting the game of “what’s new”, a reply of “nothing” would discourage me too.

But then, this seemingly simple question also makes me feel very nervous. It asks too much of me without really asking anything at all. When asked, even by a close friend or family member I’ve known my whole life, I feel like I’m suddenly on stage in front of thousands of people, with a hot spotlight shining bright on my face. I feel like the question asks me to prove that I’m living a meaningful life, that I’m being productive, that I’m successful, that I am worth the time this person is spending with me.

What’s new?

The question bounces around in my brain, searching, begging my memory banks to pull something from the last few weeks or months—anything I can tell them that might make them say, “wow!” or “that’s exciting!”

I look for a story or a big life event or a punchline that can kick off the conversation and make them glad they decided to talk to me.

But most of the time, unless I have something specific at the ready, my honest answer will be “nothing.” Not because I have been standing stationary, eating nothing but beans since the last time I saw them—though this would probably make for an interesting story—but because I get so nervous that my answer will be unimpressive or boring, that I can’t think of a single thing.

The truth is, I usually have a lot to say. And I want to open up and share those things, but it just takes me a minute. My mind has to survey the situation, seeing if it feels safe enough for me to let the walls down and let you in on everything—to really tell you what’s new. But chances are, a lot of “what’s new” is completely internal. Maybe I’ve learned something about myself, or untied a knot that held me hostage for a long time. Maybe I did a workout the other day that gave me the slightest bit more confidence in my body, or just started working on a creative project that I’m really excited about. Maybe I’ve been harping on something I don’t know how to express yet, or I had a dream that has puzzled me since the morning I woke up with it fresh in my mind. Maybe I’ve just been going about my routine, content as ever, but am worried that is not exciting enough to tell you.

I have never been good at conversational shortcuts. People who can sit down and immediately tell you what’s on their mind have always amazed me. Because I need time. I need to take the long way. I need you to do the heavy lifting while my brain boots up and prepares all of the funny or inspiring moments I might have experienced since the last time I saw you. I want time to remember all of the interesting anecdotes I’ve recently learned from podcasts, articles, movies, tv shows and books. I want time to recall the questions I have for you, that will perhaps invite us into the deeper conversation we’re both hoping for.

I know I can’t stop people from asking “what’s new?” And honestly, I’m not trying to. I understand it’s purpose in the conversation universe, and I understand that much of my distaste for it stems from my own insecurities. At the end of the day, we all have a lot of “new” because we’ve all woken up each morning and experienced day after day, with countless thoughts, ideas, hopes, desires, heartbreaks, frustrations and delights. Sometimes it’s just hard to recall them in a few seconds, after a two-word question, when it feels like the fate of a conversation is in your hands.  You know?

So this week, as we walk into the holday season, maybe we all just give each other a little time. Ask the question but maybe follow it up with something more specific, like “what was the best part of your week?” or “have you read/watched/eaten anything good lately?” or “what’s something you’re excited about?” Something that might spark a memory in the other person rather than leave them floundering in their mind, wondering if they’re doing anything with their life.

Give conversations room to take the long way around. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

You Can

Is there a place you’ve always wanted to go to?

A thing you’ve always wanted to try?

A bucket list item that you always bring up excitedly, but then follow it up with a gloomy, wistful “someday”?

Is there something you keep adding to your want-to-do list?

An idea bouncing around in your head that you never say out loud to anyone else?

Is there something you keep wanting to do or try or see or say or explore or learn that you keep talking yourself out of, saying, “but I can’t”?

I just want to remind you that you can.

I know there are obstacles. Some small, some big.

I know your calendar is full and you don’t have time, and what about all of your responsibilities or what if you fail or what if you embarrass yourself or maybe it’s too far or too hard or something only other people get to do, or maybe it’s just too expensive or you don’t have anything to wear or it’s just a crazy idea or WHATEVER.

I know all the reasons why not. Maybe not for you, for your situation, for your life, right now, but I know what it’s like to want to do something and have your mind tell you every reason why you shouldn’t or can’t or should just put it aside for “someday.”

I’m just here to remind you that you can make someday sooner.

That you can shape it. That you can make it happen.

The world can throw a lot of curveballs at us, and we can get lost in the chaos of those curveballs. We can watch our lives fly by. We can pretend like the rest of the world is only for other people. We can convince ourselves that our plans have no place in the future—only in our dreams.

But while we’re here, while we’re living these lives that are ours and ours alone, why not try or see or explore the things that stir something up inside us? Why live in the mindset of “I can’t” when the very loud and obvious truth is you can?

You can take that trip—maybe not today, this moment, but you can start saving for it, start planning for it, and make it happen.

You can do that thing—take that class, try that new hobby, climb that mountain, write that book, pursue that dream.

Think about the times you’ve said to yourself, “I want to try that,” or, “I want to go there,” or, “I wonder what that’s like.”

And then give yourself permission to find out. To plan. To start saving money. To take the steps forward to do the thing.

There are always going to be reasons why you can’t. But it’s important to remember that you can.

Look for the Heart Shaped Pizzas

When I was in high school, I was part of my church youth group. On Wednesday nights, we would get together to worship, hear a sermon, and then hang out and talk. The boys liked to skateboard and play tag and do stunts that would make me say, “that doesn’t look safe.” And the girls would talk and shoot basketballs and try to figure out what in the world it meant to be a teenager.

I wouldn’t be unique in saying that, for me, being a teenager was hard. It was confusing and awkward and terrifying. Nothing felt normal or safe or easy. And on top of the things I was going through in my own body and mind, the world threw a few curveballs at me that really rattled my foundation.

Death, betrayal, and new levels of fear burst through the bubble I’d been living in, introducing me to dark parts of the world I wasn’t ready for. Every direction I turned had a new mountain to climb, or hole to dig out of, or an empty room to sit in that used to be full.

Each shot came at me and I took it, though I didn’t really absorb the pain, at least not in a way I was able to process. I was sad and angry and confused, but I was also 15 and 16 and 17, just trying to get that cute boy to notice me or to pass my Economics final. There were a lot of emotions competing for the surface, and the fun ones were more enticing.

One Wednesday, when I went to youth group, we met in the Fellowship Hall, which is like a banquet room. There were round tables set up and we were assigned seats. Heart shaped pizzas sat in the middle of each table. I sat down in my spot, nervous, but hungry, and listened for further instructions.

The theme of the night was love. It was sharing the hard parts of our lives so that we might be able to help one another work through, overcome, or at the very least talk about them. I peeled pepperoni off my slice of pizza and then took a big bite. A few people at my table shared before me. They talked about fighting parents, divorced parents, difficult relationships with siblings or friends. I chewed on my slice of pizza and then had another.

When it came to my turn, I took a deep breath and then started talking. I assumed it would be like giving an oral report—simply stating the facts. But once I started, I realized how heavy it had all been to hold.

“It’s just been really hard,” I said. And then I burst into tears.

This shocked everyone at my table, as no one before me had cried, or even welled up. No one at any of the surrounding tables was emotional either. But I was suddenly sobbing. My youth group leader walked over and scooped me into a hug. She rubbed my back and I cried in shuddering breaths and sniffles. I kept trying to stop, embarrassed at the scene I was making, but it just kept coming.

As I leaned into her chest, the boy beside me was asked to share. To continue the process so people would stop staring at me. I listened as he shared a story of an abusive stepparent and then I instantly stopped crying. The grief that had literally spilled out of me was instantly swallowed by shame.

I felt guilty for being so overwhelmed by what I was going through, because clearly it wasn’t as hard as what he was going through. I was embarrassed for crying. I went home exhausted.

For years afterward, I didn’t cry in front of people. I’m still not good at it. There is still a shame buried deep inside me, something that tells me that if I breakdown I will look stupid, ignorant of the realer, harder problems happening around me. It takes me right back to that moment in the Fellowship Hall, feeling like maybe I was just weak.

I say this now, with dots connected, though it took me a long time to figure it out. To pinpoint the when and the why. I used to say, with a sense of pride, “I just don’t really cry.” I used to brag that sad movies never got me. I felt tough, cool, unique. Kim doesn’t cry. She’s so strong.

But I wasn’t.

I was just burying it all. The same way I’d done in high school. And even though it’s what I wanted LEAST, I was walking around with all of that weight, all of that pain, looking for another table with a heart shaped pizza to lay it all down on.

I think for a long time I resented that day. Absolutely HATED that I cried and that I got embarrassed. I fizzled out on youth group after that, just slowly stopped going. Not only because of that night, but I think part of me was terrified it might happen again.

I spent the next decade of my life scared to cry. Scared to be vulnerable. Scared to be weak.

But more and more over the last few years I’ve realized how valid it all was. How justified. How okay. That night I needed to let it go. To let it out. To admit that what I was carrying was heavy.

And no matter what is going on in the lives around me, when something feels heavy to me, it’s heavy.

When something feels heavy to you, it’s heavy.

Being a teenager isn’t easy, but neither is being an adult. Let’s face it, as time goes on, life gets harder and things tend to just get heavier. But I’m learning now that I don’t have to run from the heart shaped pizzas asking me to sit down and lighten my load. I don’t have to pretend to be strong. Sometimes you just have to peel off a pepperoni, take a deep breath, and let it go.

It doesn’t make you weak, it just makes you honest. And when you’re honest, when you’re vulnerable, when you’re brave enough to let it go, you find strength, you find peace, and then you can grab another slice.

September & October Favorites

Happy Halloween, y’all!

Fun (and at times controversial) fact: Halloween is not my favorite.

I’ve never been very into costumes, I absolutely hate being scared, and one year in middle school I got my braces tightened on Halloween morning and I couldn’t eat any candy. #trauma.

But while “spooky season” might not be for me, I have bunch of new favorites that might be for you!

Let’s dive in.

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Podcasts

Kelsey Kreppel is a Youtuber and former preschool teacher. During the pandemic, she discussed having daily “circle time” with her class on Zoom to keep them engaged and give them some structure. Now, her podcast Circle Time is like a weekly check-in for adults that is cozy, fun and nostalgic. The episodes are broken down into familiar sections: journal time, story time, show and tell, etc., and it feels like a conversation with a friend.

Speaking of friends, Elyse Meyers is someone who I immediately loved once I found her on Tik Tok. She is funny and sweet and undeniably herself. Her videos and stories are so funny and genuine, so I was thrilled to hear she was starting a podcast. Each episode of Funny Cuz it’s True starts with one of her trademark, fast paced stories, and then is followed up with an interview of a famous personality. Throughout the interview she pauses the segment and comes in with commentary, giving insight into what she was thinking, or how a particular piece of advice stood out to her. I love hearing her learn and grow in real time and I feel like I do the same.

And finally, The Best Advice Show. If you’re looking for something short (like less than 10 minutes) and sweet. This is the perfect show to boost you. Each week, two short episodes are released that detail pieces of advice people want to share. I am always up for some inspirational words, and love hearing them in the context that they were learned.

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Books

Over the past couple months, I’ve done a few different Bible studies that I have loved.

Fighting Words is a 100-day daily devotional that encourages you to memorize Bible verses in order to be better equipped to tackle the harder parts of life. Get Your Life Back discusses the chaos of our daily lives and offers simply practices to regain control—or rather relinquish that control and regain peace. My favorite practice so far is the “one minute pause.” I do it every morning when I get in my car. It settles me into the day rather than encouraging hurry from the start. I just sit quietly for an entire minute and center myself and my faith into the beginning of the day. If you are looking for a faith based book, I would recommend both of these.

Next, I loved My Oxford Year. I don’t know what it says about how often I listen to audiobooks that I have an absolute favorite audiobook narrator, but Julia Whelan is and forever will be my queen. So when my sister told me that Julia wrote a book AND narrates a new book, I was immediately IN. Bonus: I loved the book! It follows Ella from Ohio as she spends a year studying literature at Oxford University in England. It’s a fun—and unexpectedly stressful at times—read and it was an easy listen. (Thanks, Julia.)

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Movies

If you are a Pride and Prejudice or Emma fan, Persuasion is for you. It has been my go-to comfort movie. My favorite thing to wind down to at the end of a long day. It’s based off of Jane Austen’s book of the same name, and it is just as cozy as any other movie in this genre. Dakota Johnson is charming and funny and the story is unique and easy to follow. When I texted my sister about it, I described the movie as “glorious” and her response after watching it was, “truly, truly, glorious.” So, do with that what you will. (find it on Netflix)

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TV Shows

I have been in a little bit of a show rut lately, not knowing what I want to watch or where to start.

So if you have any show recommendations please let me know!

But there have been two that I have been loving.

Abbott Elementary is so fun and hilarious. It follows the teachers and students at an elementary school in Philadelphia, focusing mainly on second grade teacher Jeanine, who is upbeat and dedicated to her job—at times to a fault. It is clever and sweet, and has made me laugh out loud often. (find it on Hulu)

House of the Dragon is a prequel to Game of Thrones, set hundreds of years prior to the world we know so well. Regardless of your opinion on how Game of Thrones ended, this show is worth the watch. It has been so excited to fall back into that universe and see how the story unfolds. I never, repeat NEVER anticipate what is going to happen and gasp almost every episode. Not to mention, the theme song still pumps me UP and makes me feel nostalgic for the Game of Thrones watching days. (find it on HBO Max)

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Music

Subject to Change by Kelsea Ballerini

Good Person by Ingrid Andress

Midnights by Taylor Swift

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Misc

And finally, the 40oz Stanley Tumbler. When I tell you that this water bottle has taken my family by storm, I am not exaggerating in the SLIGHTEST. My sister ordered the highly sought after, often sold out tumbler, and after she got it we were all promptly raging with jealousy. When she got an email that they were restocked she ordered five more so we could join the Stanley party. It is a great size, it keeps water VERY cold, and the handle makes it easy to carry. Now we all have one and refer to our water bottles by the name “Stanley” and it turns quite a few heads.

“Have you seen Stanley?”

“Omg I left Stanley at home.”

“Yeah, the other day I was holding Stanley and then I dropped him.”

“Poor guy.”

(find it here)


Have anything you’ve been loving over these last couple months? Let me know!

See my previous favorites post here.

A Golden Gate Birthday (Part 2)

Saturday October 1, 2022

On Saturday we woke up with a renewed determination to see the bridge.

We’d been given advice: 11:00am – 2:00pm.

That was the window. The no Karl window.

So we took our time getting ready, popped into a café for a quick coffee and a pastry, then walked with new resolve through our already familiar neighborhood to the water.

I took this picture at 10:56 a.m.

It wasn’t the whole bridge. It wasn’t the bridge from the travel photo with the perfect lighting and a sky that had never even HEARD of Karl. But it was, like, 80% of the bridge. The most I’d ever seen.

I thought of eigth grade me. Her eyes squinting in the overcast lighting, her hair gelled back in a ponytail, her shoelaces tied too tight. Here we were again, 18 years later.

From the bridge, we walked back by the Palace of Fine Arts—because why wouldn’t you?—en route to the Lyon Street Steps.

Lyon Street on its own is a bit of a hill. It’s gradual but constant. So when the stairs came into view and my friends glanced at me as if to say, “is THAT where we’re going?” and I smiled my best smile as if to say, “SORRY BUT YES,” I felt that small fear of did I plan the worst trip ever shiver through my spine.

But it wasn’t as strong as before.

I was having the best time, and I was surrounded by my best friends. There was an ease that had overtaken the fear. I still wanted everyone to have a good time, but I felt less afraid that they weren’t. It was a good day, and even stairs couldn’t ruin it.

We walked up the first flight, and were already excited at the view to come. We played “The Distance” by CAKE on one of our phones to motivate us to keep going. A few people jogged right by us, and a woman walked up and down the stairs in metallic leggings, managing to talk on the phone while climbing. We remained unperturbed. Once we reached the top, we high fived, took a few photos and then went on our way.

“This way,” I said, pointing to an open gate in between two cement pillars, one of which had a plaque with The Presidio printed on it.

This is where extensive (obsessive?) online research can come in handy before a trip.

While looking up things to do in San Francisco, one fun and unique attraction that came up was Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line. It’s found inside the Presidio (which is basically a gigantic park full of all kinds of fun things), and is VERY close to the top of the Lyon Street Steps.

0.1 miles to be exact.

We walked in the gate, and then descended into the park. Within a few minutes (or, if you’re interested, just to the left of where Pacific Ave and Presidio Blvd meet) we found the Wood Line.

It was the perfect deep breath after all the stairs. Plus, it was nice and cool inside the canopy of the trees. We walked until the path met back up with the main road, then followed the road through the park.

While walking, I said, “hey, I heard there’s a Yoda statue in this park,” which everyone agreed to go see. We took pictures and then I pointed at a nearby building.

“There’s an R2-D2 in there!” I exclaimed.

We tried to get in but were surprised to find the door was locked. Upon further investigation, we found out this was Lucasfilm a.k.a. the studio that MAKES the Star Wars movies. So not only was the Yoda statue not as strange as we thought, but we had also tried to wander into a major movie studio, and then peered through their windows for a while.

Afterward, we had lunch at Sessions at the Presidio. If you ever go, order the beignets.

From lunch, we got on the bus and headed downtown to visit City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. It is a cool bookshop with multiple levels. All of us being book nerds, we spent a good chunk of time looking around before we each made a purchase and went on our merry way.

Once we got back to our hotel, we just *sat.*

Downtime is an underrated part of travelling. Especially when you are travelling with friends you love dearly, whom you can talk to about anything. We sat in chairs and on beds and talked for a few hours, recovering from the literal miles we had walked over the last two days. It felt like having my friends over for dinner or gossiping in a dorm room. I sat there wondering how I’d gotten so lucky to have these people as my people. To know that I could tell them anything and that they would be there for me. To know that I could text them out of the blue and ask them to go to San Francisco with me for my birthday. and they would all show up to make me feel loved and celebrated. I thought about saying something, but then I worried I might cry.

For dinner, we went to Ace Wasabi Rock-N-Roll Sushi, where we drank Sapporo, repeatedly said, “oh my gosh you have to try this” and then eventually said “I think I need to unzip my pants” before walking back to our hotel and knocking out.

Sunday October 2, 2022

On our last day in San Francisco, we went to breakfast at Home Plate, which again was just a short walk from our hotel. It was our last meal together, the big brunch to end the trip.  We had all booked early afternoon flights, both because they were cheap, and because it gave us the last half of our Sunday at home before we headed back to work.

To me, sitting at breakfast immediately felt like one of those “remember when” moments. The whole trip did, really. Though I’d given my friends a few months notice, it had still felt like a relatively spontaneous vacation. It seemed crazy that we were all able to squeeze in a weekend like this amongst our crazy schedules, and it seemed unlikely that we’d be able to do it again any time soon. So while I tried to be present, the whole trip took on a nostalgic feeling for me right from the beginning.

The next time we take a trip like this, our lives might look very different. And while a part of that is scary—because things are always changing and change is hard and chaotic and a lot to keep up with—it is also exciting. I’m excited to see where we go and how we grow. I’m excited for the future because I know I have a lot of good people in it, and I’m thankful for this trip because it reminded me of that.

Plus, like any good trip, this one was filled with its own one liners. Moments that made us laugh, that don’t make a lot of sense out of context, and that might lose meaning in the years to come. But in the Notes app on my phone, I jotted down a few.

“What is it with the eggs in this city?”

“She rose from the ashes of Georgie.”

“I will never get over seeing ravioli at a liquor store.”

“This is the picture of the century.”

These are their own kind of picture, their own kind of memory. I can still hear and feel the moment they existed in. They will always bring me back here, to San Francisco, where Karl reigned supreme, but we had fun anyway.

A Golden Gate Birthday (Part 1)

When I was in 8th grade, I went on a class trip to San Francisco.

I remember eating Ghirardelli chocolate, I remember getting a migraine on the bus, I remember listening to Hoobastank in the hotel room that I shared with four other girls, and I remember the fog.

En route to Seattle a few years later, my family stopped in San Francisco. I remember walking around Fisherman’s Wharf, I remember it raining, and I remember the fog.

This past spring, on a slow day at work, I was scrolling through a travel article that counted down beautiful places to visit, and San Francisco was on the list. I stared at a picture of the Golden Gate bridge, in perfect focus, enveloped in golden light.

On both visits to San Francisco, I hadn’t seen the bridge like this. I’d seen its feet, hints of the deep red color, and glimpses of the swooping curves. On one day of my class trip, we’d even walked across the bridge, making it visible close up. But for the most part the fog sat right on top, hiding it, keeping its full glory a secret.

As I sat in my desk chair, staring at that perfect picture of the bridge, reading through the gushing comments from people who loved the city, or who dreamed of it but lived too far to visit, I decided I needed to go back.

When is the best time to visit San Francisco? I Googled.

September to November, it answered.

I bookmarked the page.

In light of my 32nd birthday at the beginning of September, I decided to make the trip a birthday celebration. I invited my three closest friends, and I planned the whole thing.

The day before we left, I completely panicked, wondering if everything I planned—everything I knew I would love—was a terrible idea. Maybe my ideal trip was only ideal for me. Maybe everyone would have an awful time and wish they never came and wonder why we were even friends.

You know, just a cute, fun anxiety spiral that concluded this was the trip I lose all my friends. Thanks, brain!

Nevertheless, I boarded the plane with my sister on Friday morning, happy to be playing hooky from work, and texted Allison and Nicole, who were flying out separately, that we’d see them in the city.

Friday September 30th, 2022

“Where are we headed?” our Lyft driver asked as we got in the car.

Marina Motel,” I answered.

“Oooh!” he said as he zoomed in on his map. “That’s a cool area.”

The smallest weight fell off my shoulders.

My first fear: did I book us two nights at a murder hotel? had immediately been quashed.

After he dropped us off, we left our bags at the hotel and then headed out for lunch.

The hotel concierge told us: “right, right” as our directions to find everything we might need.

And she was right.

We walked down Chestnut St. and found tons of bars, restaurants and cafes. As we narrowed down what sounded good for lunch, we also pointed out possible spots for dinner, and for breakfast the next morning.

It was 70 degrees. A perfect, sunny day. The slightest breeze made us shiver, but it made the sun feel all the more welcoming.

We settled on Bonita Taqueria Rotisse, and I ordered a quesadilla that was almost the size of my forearm. We talked, settling into the weekend. My toes wiggled in my shoes, nervous and excited.

“Which way to the bridge?” Nicole asked.

I held up a pointed finger as I looked down at the map on my phone.

“That way.”

The homes in the Marina District are gorgeous. Big and colorful, they look nothing like the buildings we are acquainted with in Southern California. There are no backyards, the small garages act as the bottom floors of the building, and cars are required to drive over the sidewalk to get inside. We pulled up Zillow, curious and nosey, and we all gasped. Then we pointed, picking which houses we liked most, all while trying to pretend we lived there when another pedestrian walked by.

“Hello!” we would say with our best neighborly wave. “Just out for our daily walk.”

En route to the bridge, we walked by and through the Palace of Fine Arts.

It is so grand and unexpected. The kind of building you don’t expect to see in an American city. The kind that makes you stand underneath it and just look UP. Everyone walked by with a camera, taking in the architecture and showcasing its grandiosity in comparison to the average human.

A girl took pictures in her quinceañera dress, a family smiled for a potential Christmas card, a bride and groom took pictures with a small bridal party which included a cat in a tuxedo. 

We kept walking, closing in on the water up ahead. As we walked, we pulled our sleeves up and fanned our faces. I bounced in excitement, thinking I’d outsmarted the fog—which is known in the city as “Karl”—elated to have arrived on such a sunny, hot day. But when we came around the corner and crooned our heads to find the bridge, Karl laughed in our face.

Not an INCH of the bridge was visible. We squinted our eyes at an island in the distance, assuming it might be Alcatraz but unable to tell for sure from the faint, blurry blob we could see.

We laughed, because it was the only thing we could do, and then we started walking again.

We went east, towards the Fisherman’s Wharf, with no real destination in mind. We blended into the pack of runners, bikers, and skateboarders that cruised down Marina Boulevard with their own plans. I began to relax, knowing this is exactly what I wanted to do. I just wanted to walk. To be a part of the city, allowing myself to fantasize that I lived there, the same way I had when I was in eighth grade.

It’s my favorite way to see a city. Slow and deliberate.

We ended up at Great Meadow Park at Fort Mason, and stopped at the top of the hill to take a few pictures.

An older man whizzed by us on an electric scooter, singing the Speed Racer theme song to himself and we all giggled. We sat down on a half wall, looking at the people picnicking, reading and sleeping on the grass. San Francisco seemed to know how to relax on a Friday afternoon.

With a quick stop for coffee, we walked back to the Palace of Fine Arts to watch the sunset. Clouds began to roll in, making it a lot colder. We shivered and ate Madeline cookies. We pleaded with the sun, begging for it to slice through, to give us that multicolor sunset behind the Palace, but it never did. We stayed for as long as our light jackets could stand it, and then we headed back to the hotel.

For dinner, we went to Na’Pizza, which not only had heat lamps, but BLANKETS on every chair.

You do not know cozy until you know a dinner blanket.

We ordered the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, the arugula salad and the Margherita pizza to split between the four of us, along with a bottle of wine.

“Thank you for coming,” I said to the table of ladies, raising my wine glass. “You guys are my best.”

The phrase felt the slightest bit unnatural on my tongue. I’d only just heard it used a day or two before. But I liked the way it left the compliment open. Because they weren’t just my best friends, they were the best of many things I’d found so far in this life. The best listeners, the best advice givers, the best people to talk to on the phone, or to eat takeout with on the couch, or to ask for help when you’re falling into a thought spiral. They had each gone beyond the bounds of friendship for me, and were more than I could explain. They were just the best, and I was glad I had them with me.

This is What it’s Like to Listen to a Taylor Swift Album for the First Time

In August of 2017, my sister and I leaned into one another, a headphone in each of our ears.

We were sitting in a high section of the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA, waiting for Dierks Bentley to go on stage. The room was echoing with people going to and from their seats.

The clock hit 9:00pm. It was a Thursday. Spotify unveiled their new releases of the week. But we only cared about one.

It had been almost three years since Taylor Swift released 1989, and we were desperate for new music. And now, the first single off of the upcoming reputation had finally been released.

“Look What You Made Me Do” came in firing. We bounced our feet around, listening to every word. We gasped, we shrieked, we opened our eyes wide and let out an “OH MY GOSH.”

A few months later, at 9:00pm (midnight for the east coast) on another Thursday, we sat in our favorite chairs in the living room and streamed the entire album.

Unable to fully understand each lyric the first time it hit us, we listened to the attitude, we bobbed to the beat, we sighed, we laughed, we clapped, we screamed.

In a matter of weeks, we knew the whole album by heart.

For some reason, this is the first Taylor Swift album I remember listening to for the first time. Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red and 1989 all had their first listens, and I now know every word to every song, but for some reason it’s the reputation release that sticks out. Maybe it’s because it’s the first album she released after my sister and I moved out of our parents’ house and into a place of our own. It was the first album we could play at full volume and stay up late talking about without having to worry about keeping anyone else up.

After reputation, it became our tradition to listen to the albums together. To experience them for the first time, together. 

In August of 2019, we heard Lover for the first time.

In July of 2020, as “stay at home” orders remained in effect, folklore became our biggest and brightest calendar event. And in December of 2020, evermore sent similar shockwaves throughout our very abnormal world.

In April and November of 2021, we sat in a new living room in a new apartment, listening to the new recording of the Fearless and Red albums, singing along to songs we already knew and learning the ones we didn’t.

On this past Thursday, my cousin Taryn and I stood in the audience of a concert in West Hollywood. My sister, now married and living with her husband, was unfortunately home with the flu. The concert started an hour late. By the end, even though the show had been great and the artist even more talented than we thought, we were tapping our toes, anxious to get out of the venue, into the car, and into the world of Midnights.

It was 10:30pm. We were an hour and a half behind the rest of the world who had stayed up to listen. We still had no idea what to expect. For half of our drive downtown we had theorized. Had tried to pick our favorite songs based solely on their names. We tried to know the album before it introduced itself, because we were desperate for the familiarity it would bring once it did.

Once I got on the freeway, we hit play. It was pitch black outside, with only spurts of traffic to brighten the road. “Lavender Haze” started playing through the speakers.

We swayed and then we flung our hands around. I smacked the steering wheel over and over, my excitement needing to escape somewhere.  We drove home, listening to the album in sequential order, one after the other, making only occasional comments, often just sounds. When we got back to my apartment, we hustled in and took our spots on the couch and recliner, and then played the rest of the album.

All 20 songs.

I listened the way I always do, in the same shape. I melted into the couch, my legs tucked under me, and I sat still. I listened, still. I let the album pour over the top of my head like water, absorbing each song in its entirety.

At the end, I couldn’t pick a favorite, couldn’t say much of anything. I was just shocked, quiet, and contemplative.

It felt like the day after Christmas. The end of a book or a movie.

The tension and anticipation, that thing that pulled you through each waiting day, the moment you had been waiting for, had passed. But it was not over. Because now it was time to look.

The first listen of the album lays down the pieces of the puzzle, and in every listen after you search for yourself. For the words that make things make sense. Because that’s why you’re here, that’s why you showed up. To see if she wrote a song that gives you language you didn’t have before. To see if she found a way to speak a feeling you’d only been able to hold.  

It might not be a feeling unique to a Taylor Swift album. I think it’s more a feeling consistent with art. But over the years, for those who listen, Taylor Swift’s music has become a reliable source of discovery. Of validation. Of the truth. And not just the capital “tea” truth that allegedly spills the secrets of this celebrity or that, but the truth about the feelings we all carry around with us. The truths about life we don’t always have the ability to talk about.

When I listen to a Taylor Swift album, I find, more often than anywhere else, the urge to point and say, “that. I feel like that.” And she makes talking about those feelings feel good, feel normal, feel uniting where it was previously isolating.

After I listen to a new Taylor Swift album, I often lie awake wondering if I could do that. Create. Be honest. Write something that makes people say, “that!” And knowing I’m not the only one that feels that way, listening to a new Taylor Swift album gives me hope that there are people all around the world starting the projects that will make it better.

So you’ll always find me on that couch, on a Thursday, at 9:00pm or quickly after. I will always show up to listen to a new album, because I always have more to say. And Taylor helps me say it.

Permission to Stay Home

If you’re looking for it, or you know in the back of your mind that you need it, or if you’re just too afraid to ask for it, this is your permission to stay home.

Consider this your field trip slip, signed and ready to be turned in.

You can stay home. You can do nothing. You can just sit or lay down. You can zone out to the TV, or clean until your heart’s content, or read in bed, or marathon movies, or do a craft or a puzzle, or dance around to music that makes you feel good, or cry on the couch, or do anything and everything that you have not given yourself time to do because your schedule is too full, or you’re trying to do too many things at once, or you feel like if you sit at home you’re not “seizing the day” or whatever.

Sometimes you just need to stay home.

Sometimes you just need time to breathe.

Sometimes you just need to shut and lock your door and then stay PUT.

This past weekend, that is what I needed.

For weeks my brain had been jumbled. Jumbled with all of the things that I wanted to do, all the things I had to do, and all the things in between.

I made a to-do list, but every time I looked at it it seemed to be the same length. Nothing was getting crossed off. I was just reviewing everything I hadn’t done, only to then spiral into the same chaotic pattern in which I still didn’t do anything.

A big chunk had to do with my new apartment.

Having just recently moved, I had things strewn about my counters and furniture. Pictures waiting to be hung, boxes waiting to be unpacked, trinkets waiting to be displayed, organized, and, in some cases, glued back together.

I did not have that base yet. That foundation. The one where when you get home from work, you put your purse in one place and kick your shoes off in another; the one where you can sit down on the couch for a few minutes as you decide whether you want to exercise or if you’ll get started on dinner early; the one where, on your way to bed, you hang that one rogue jacket back up in the closet and toss the sock that missed the hamper on top of the rest of dirty clothes, knowing that those two things are the only ones out of place; the one where you go to bed tired, but not stressed, aware of your to-do list for the next day and even excited to add a few more things.

That is my happy place.

But as much as I wanted to get there, I didn’t know how to start moving.

When I got home from work, all I wanted to do was sit down. To take a breath, to try and figure out which thing to do first. But I had this appointment or that commitment, I had too many very fun but very back-to-back plans on the calendar.

Every day when I got home I had somewhere else to get to or something else to get done. And I didn’t have any energy or stamina to get anything done before that. I would just sit, dreading the ticking forward of the clock, and then I would sit up, get where I needed to go and then come home and collapse into bed.

As each day went by, the piles stayed piles, the boxes stayed boxes and the chaos stayed chaos.

For me, this is my nightmare.

And I felt the anxiety of disorganization stack on top of the anxiety of the new changes taking place, and I kept looking left and right, wondering if there was a way I could push pause on everything so I could try and catch up.

Well, that pause came this weekend. It came when I realized I didn’t have anything on the calendar, and when I remembered that I have the power to say, “I AM TURNING INTO A CAVE TROLL THIS WEEKEND.”

Or, in other words, I put my outside life on *do not disturb* and I locked myself in my apartment and got to work.

I sat on the couch when I was tired, I hung things up when I was inspired, I danced around my living room when a good song came on. I moved trinkets from shelf to bookcase to shelf to table to shelf to counter to end table, waiting for it to look “just right.” I ate gummy bears. I watched sports. I made myself dinner. I put my hair in a top knot and didn’t even look at my makeup bag. I wore slippers all day. I cuddled up under a blanket and caught up on the book I’m reading. And then I took a long, hot shower, and went to bed mercifully relaxed.

On Sunday, I did it all again.

And as I sit here, writing this, I feel like an entirely new person.

My calendar is still full, my apartment isn’t finished yet, but MY GOODNESS I’ve come so far in two days.

So, if you’re someone who just needs a *minute*, who is feeling like there are simply too many things being thrown your way or asked of you; if your to-do list is in a stagnant state of long or if it has become something that only gets longer, then you might need to become a cave troll.

Maybe for a night. Maybe for a day. Maybe for a weekend. Maybe for a while.

I don’t know your schedule. I don’t know your responsibilities. But I know that we all need a break sometimes. We all need some time to digest what on earth is going on in our lives.

So, this is your permission to take that time.

To say no to that thing. To clear your calendar of what is superfluous. To take advantage of that empty space. Sit. Lay. Read. Breathe. Do absolutely nothing.

Put the outside world on pause. It will be there for you when you’re ready—and maybe you’ll be a little more ready for it.

The New Apartment

Back in January, the apartment I was living in with my sister flooded. Or, as I prefer to say, my washer betrayed me.

When our apartment officially went under construction, my sister and I moved out, and over the course of the next few months, my sister got married and moved in with her husband, while I stayed with my parents, watching the world as I knew it materialize before my eyes. Not only would I not be going back to the apartment that I loved (because I couldn’t afford it by myself), but I would now be living alone for the very first time.

The reality of it all hit me in two ways:

  1. I was starting a new chapter and it was exciting.
  2. I had seemingly lost everything and I was sad.

I battled with the two mindsets constantly as I began to look for a new apartment.

When I’d find a prospective place and imagine myself living there, taking on the world and all of its new possibilities, I felt hopeful, excited, and anxious to start this new chapter. But when an opportunity would fall through (over and over and over) or I would go through periods of having no one call or email me back, or when it seemed like everyone else had everything falling into place while I was still at square one, I grew frustrated, tired, bitter and a little heartbroken. 

In total, I would contact over 100 places, and only hear back from and tour seven. It was a lot of sitting around and waiting, a lot of getting my hopes up and then getting them shut down again. I kept hopping from city to city, trying to figure out where I wanted to live, where I felt safe living on my own, and what I could afford, and the three did not often line up with one another. It was an exhausting process, one that often left me discouraged and sad. I was desperate to have this part of my future figured out, so that I could start to figure out the rest.

I knew that finding an apartment wouldn’t solve all my problems. I knew it wouldn’t be the thing that made every other worry melt away. I also knew that there was a pretty good chance that finding an apartment and starting a new chapter would add new worries to my life that I knew nothing about yet. But that didn’t make it easier. I still longed for it. For something new and for the start of that something.

Then, on a Friday afternoon in August, an ad popped up for a place I’d never seen before. I sent a request to tour but figured I wouldn’t hear back. The ad said it had been listed for 25 days. Most apartments I’d liked went off the market in hours, let alone an entire month.

But on Saturday the woman called me, and we set up an appointment for the following day.

“We’ll see,” I said, cynically with a shrug. I was half convinced she’d cancel before I got there, or let me know that 1) she’d already rented it, or 2) she decided to raise the rent by a billion dollars. But she did neither. Instead, when I walked up to the front of the building, the woman greeted me with a smile. And when she opened the door to the apartment, I got that feeling.

The THIS IS IT! feeling.

I walked around the apartment, barely having to look at it, and then I asked where I could apply.

We walked downstairs to the office and I filled out the paperwork, and I drove home feeling optimistic. She said she would let me know within the week.

A few hours later, she called to tell me I got it.

The following week, she gave me the keys.

While the moving in process has been a slow and steady one, I now write this from my couch, in my living room, in my new apartment.

While I still sometimes battle the two mindsets: excited and independent vs. sad and alone, I’ve also had a wave of people encourage me as I start this new chapter. Married friends and family who I often think I’d trade places with in a minute, talk about my new chapter with awe and wonder. Not many of them have ever lived on their own, and so they talk about it with a curiosity they will never quite be able to quench.

I take comfort in this. Because while I tend to criticize myself and my path for being so different from those of my friends, I am finding more and more that it is not a lesser path, but in fact just a different one. So here I am, right at the start, unsure of what adventures lie ahead. I am excited and nervous, and I will honor both feelings. Because this is where I am, this is where I was meant to be, and the only place to go from here is forward.