life

7 Things Saving My Life Right Now

I recently listened to an episode of The Next Right Thing podcast where host, Emily P. Freeman, shared a list of things that are currently “saving her life.” The list was inspired by a question Barbara Brown Taylor answered in her memoir Leaving Church.

At first, the question was startling to me: “What’s saving my life right now?”

To answer the question, it seemed, one would need to find themselves in dire circumstances and give answers such as: medication, oxygen, a rope that someone threw over the side of a cliff and asked me to grab onto, etc.

But then, when asked to consider how often we say that “______ is killing me”—whether it be work, school, a tough coworker, a moody teenager, finances, etc.—I realized this question is actually a way to bring attention to the good things in our life. The things we look forward to in the day to day. The things that allow us to breathe in and calm down amongst all of the stress and chaos that feels like it is breaking us down bit by bit.

And so, today I want to share with you the things that are currently saving my life.

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1) My houseplants

I don’t want to say that my mental health hinges on the state of my houseplants, but there is a special kind of relief that comes when they are not actively dying. I have two houseplants: a ZZ plant named Ruth, and a Fiddle Leaf Fig named Figgy Azalea, both of which are currently thriving. And if you’ve read this blog post from a while back where I wrote a series of haikus about my pension for killing plants, you’ll know this is an absolute joy for me.  

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2) My counted cross-stitch

My calendar has felt full for the entire year thus far, and it shows no signs of slowing down. But on the nights when I’m home and able to sit on the couch and relax a little, I have found such joy in working on my latest cross-stitch. It makes me feel creative and gives my hands something to do other than scroll on my phone. I’m very thankful my grandma taught me how to cross stich all those years ago.

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3) Phone calls with my friend Nicole

Last September one of my best friends moved to San Diego. On the last night she was in town, we decided that alongside texting and the occasional visit back and forth, we would plan to call each other (at least) once a month in order to stay active and up to date in each other’s lives. We also set up an emoji-based system that, should one person need an immediate phone call for various reasons, they can send that emoji like a bat signal.

Some of our emoji codes are as follows:

The suitcase 💼 which implies, there are things to unpack.

The bone 🦴 which says, I HAVE A BONE TO PICK.

And the dragon 🐲 which suggests: and I quote from our message, “there is too much going on and I feel so overwhelmed I think I’ve grown a tail and whiskers and just need to talk to a friend.”

These conversations have proven to be some of the highlights of my week. On our scheduled day I will pop my headphones in and go on a walk, and then we will talk (and talk and talk and talk) until our hearts are content or until it’s time to eat dinner.

Then, in the hours that follow, we usually send visual aids that relate back to the many things we covered over the course of our two-hour (or so) phone call, giving us each things to dive into and try out so we can reconvene and rediscuss later.

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4) My mid-morning cashews

I know this one sounds silly. It is silly, but it’s true. Every workday I bring a small Tupperware container full of cashews to have for snack a couple hours before lunch. What started as a solution to mid-morning hunger pangs has become somewhat of a mile marker of my day. Once I have my cashews, I know I’m halfway to lunch. And, visa versa, once I’m halfway to lunch I get to have my delicious, salty, cashews. I try to savor them but always end up barreling through them like they are popcorn during a suspenseful movie. Nevertheless, they are always delicious and I always look forward to them.

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5) My room in my parents’ house

You may have read this post back in January about the day we have since begun to refer to as “The Great Flood.” It was a very stressful, very ridiculous ordeal. But thankfully, when the time came to pack our stuff and get out so the repair process could begin, my parents offered to let me stay with them. Over the course of the last couple months, this room and their house has been a true blessing. It has lessened the weight of stress on my shoulders tremendously and it has allowed me to find a sense of routine and normal amongst so much chaos.

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6) My writing class

I took almost a year off of pursuing my Creative Writing Certificate through UCLA Extension in order to work on a big writing project. But at the beginning of April I was able to sign up for another writing class—my fourth of six needed to complete the program. Almost instantly it put me in a good, creative headspace, and the presence of deadlines has helped me get back in a more consistent writing routine. I always love to see what kinds of essays and stories these classes can bring out of me, so I am very thankful to be back.

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7) Baseball

I grew up watching Dodger baseball, and the pandemic years of no fans and then limited fans were tough. So to have baseball back in full swing this spring has been magical. Plus, baseball season always seems to bring order to my world. It brings my family together and gives us something to root for, and it’s one of the perfect evening watches after a long day at work.


What are some of the things that are saving your life right now?

You can also find the podcast episode here.

I Played Hooky!

When my alarm went off on Friday it felt like any other weekday. I hit snooze once—okay twice—and then I got up and went through my morning routine.

But it wasn’t a normal weekday. It wasn’t even a work day. Because I was playing hooky!

A couple weeks ago, I got an email from one of my favorite places to volunteer, Food Forward, offering the opportunity to pick blueberries.

“Bummer,” I said, reading through the details. “It’s on a Friday morning.”

As a long time Monday-Friday officer worker, 8:00am – 4:00pm are always work hours. They are accounted for. They are booked. So I almost deleted the email right then and there.

But then…I let it churn a bit.

I am not one for taking spontaneous days off. I like to plan vacations and there’s the occasional weekend trip I’ll extend one way or the other, but other than that, I go to work. I’m clocking in and clocking out and wondering a) why it isn’t Friday yet, or b) how can it already be Friday?

And I’ll admit, sometimes work weeks can get monotonous. They can blend together, making time slip by at the speed of light. Which is why, when I really let myself think about it, I decided, why not?

Why not take a spontaneous Friday off?

Why not?

So, on Friday morning I got in the car, and rather than head into work I drove out to a farm in Camarillo, feeling smug as I cruised past all the rush hour traffic going the opposite direction.

When I pulled into the gravel parking lot, I met my group of fellow volunteers, who all seemed as happy to be there as I was. It was 73 degrees, it was Friday, none of us were at work. Life was good.

We walked by an orchard of avocado trees to a large tent that had almost twenty rows of blueberry bushes and a few rows of strawberry bushes right alongside them. We were each given a small bucket and told to choose an aisle.

For the next couple hours, I filled my bucket and then emptied it, dying my hands blue in the process. I’ll admit, there may have been a good handful or so of blueberries that missed my bucket and ended up in my mouth—with the permission of the farmers, of course.

At 11:00 a.m., we wrapped up our pick and calculated that we harvested around 90 pounds of blueberries. Which, when you consider that the average blueberry weighs about 1/128th of an ounce, this would suggest that we picked about 184,320 blueberries. Which would fill about 240 six-ounce containers of blueberries.

*pauses for applause*

(for the blueberry picking, yes, but also for the math I just did)

Our blueberries were donated to a food shelter, and we all left with smiles on our faces, grateful for the opportunity to lend a hand, and to spend the morning on a farm.

When I’d first made plans for my day off, I knew I’d be picking blueberries in the morning and wedding dress shopping with my sister in the afternoon. That left me a handful of hours in between to do with what I wished. So, as I got ready in the morning, I packed a bag with a few pairs of shoes, a change of clothes, and a beach towel.

After I left the farm, I headed north to a sandwich shop called Peebee & Jays. I ordered the Chicken & Greens sandwich on sourdough and filled my Hydroflask, then drove to the beach. I changed out of my blueberry stained t-shirt and into a comfortable crewneck and flip flops, then I carried my beach towel and sandwich bag out to the sand and took a seat.

The beach was nearly empty, with only a few people in sight in either direction. All I could hear was the water. I sat crisscross applesauce and watched the waves as I ate my sandwich, occasionally pausing to close my eyes and feel the breeze hit my face, my hair, my toes.  The ocean was loud but my mind was quiet.

I felt like I had time to think, to plan, to exist, to relax. A lot has happened this year, and there is a lot more year left to live. There will be a lot of work days ahead. A lot of busy weeks and full calendars. There will be a lot of change—some good, some hard, some both—and a lot of new.  But today there was just this. There was just the sound of the ocean, the sand between my toes, and this peaceful feeling that I’d grabbed onto with both hands.

I could have been at work, I could have let that email pass me by, I could have let this Friday blend in with the Wednesday and Thursday before it. But I decided to make it different. I decided to make it special. I decided to play hooky. And I was grateful I did.

If you’re looking for a sign to play hooky, this is it!

March & April Favorites

Spring is in full bloom here at home, which means that all of the birds are happily chirping, the plants are happily glowing a vibrant green, and the flowers are happily blooming in every color you can think of.

Seems like the perfect time to talk about some favorites.

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Podcasts

I have been absolutely binging Terrible, Thanks for Asking. This might be a little bit strange to hear if you a) know the podcast or b) look it up on this recommendation, because many of the episodes are emotional and, at times, devastating. But I am so drawn to the stories and emotions that this podcast inspires, and I just can’t get enough of it. I am addicted to the feelings it draws out of me, if that makes sense. They are creative feelings, they are empathetic feelings, they are feelings that say, hey, you’re alive, and I just love it.

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Books

I have a few recommendations based on what you might be looking for here

If you are looking for a romantic comedy, I’d say The Hating Game. This book was cute, strange (in a good way), funny and easy to read. It starts with: “I have a theory. Hating someone feels disturbingly similar to being in love with them” and then follows two characters who toe this line—and cross it.

If you are looking for something you cannot put down, I’d say Verity. I’d heard a lot of rumblings about this book and wanted to read it for myself. After starting, it took about five minutes for me to a) need to know everything that was going to happen, and b) need to have someone to discuss every second of the book with—a task I quickly gave to my mom, who said, “omg let me know what happens,” and allowed me to update her on the drama/horror/shock as I went along. The basic plot is that a woman is hired to finish writing a series of books since the author (named Verity) has been in an accident and is unable to continue writing. The woman then moves into Verity’s house (alongside Verity’s husband and son) so that she can immerse herself in Verity’s notes, outlines, etc. and she finds FAR more than she anticipated.

If you are looking for an inspirational read to change your perspective, I’d say The Gift of Forgiveness. This is a collection of stories that highlight forgiveness and the sometimes unbelievable/unbearable circumstances where people have found themselves in need of forgiving. At the beginning of every chapter I said, “no way,” in regards to the possibility/necessity of forgiveness and was continuously blown away by the human capacity to do so.

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Movies

I didn’t hear a lot about Everything, Everywhere, All At Once before it hit theaters, but after it did, all I heard was that it was fantastic. And I agree. It is nearly impossible for me to explain to you what happens. But I can honestly say that you’ve never seen anything like it, and that you will experience seemingly every emotion while watching it. Just watch it. It’s incredible.

Also, Father Stu. If you want a reason why you should look up this movie, here is the opening line on the Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject of this true story: “Stuart Long was an American boxer and Catholic priest.” This was an incredible story, that had humor and heart, and took turns I definitely didn’t anticipate. What an inspiring man and a truly meaningful life.  

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TV Shows

Pam & Tommy follows the beginning (and initial end) of the relationship between Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, and the theft and release of their sex tape. It is honestly devastating to watch, both because of the invasion of privacy, and the way in which Pamela Anderson was treated afterwards by the media and the lawyers that were supposed to be helping her. Both Lily James and Sebastian Stan put on incredible performances and the makeup team should win an award. (find it on Hulu)

The Girl from Plainville is based on the true story from a few years back where a girl was taken to trial for allegedly encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide. It is a heavy subject and is hard to watch at times. But I feel like it addresses an important subject and, at least for me, is a reminder of how precious life is— how precious each individual is—and how much is lost, both for a family and for the world, when someone takes their own life. (find it on Hulu)

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Music

Humble Quest by Maren Morris

Raised by Hailey Whitters

Where We Started by Thomas Rhett

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Two Dots

I’m not really one for playing games on my phone, but Two Dots has sucked me in. I couldn’t tell you how/when I found it, but it is such a simple concept and has been an easy thing to play while I’m decompressing after a long day at work. Plus, it’s free, so we love that. (find it here)

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Alabaster Co Meditations

I have wanted to get into a consistent meditation routine for a while now but have had trouble finding meditations that draw me in and keep me focused. So I was very excited to find these guided Christian meditations on YouTube that are all brief and easy to follow. I like to do them after I finish doing yoga or when I just need to refresh my mind after work. (find them here)


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

See my previous favorites post here.

How to Pray for Other People When You Don’t Know What to Say

Prayer, to me, is very special, but it’s also something that I’m still learning a lot about.

I am not that comfortable with praying in front of other people, and so I mostly do it in private. Sometimes I will pray aloud and other times I like to write out my prayers, both in a journal and in word documents on the computer—sometimes I feel like I can better get my thoughts out that way.

Even so, sometimes I feel like I’m not saying everything I want to—everything I need to. And when it comes to praying for other people, I have often felt completely unqualified. I have heard prayers (spoken both over me and others) that seem to have just the right words. They hit all the right marks, speak to all the important issues, and leave everyone feeling filled up with hope.

So even though I’ve grown comfortable with my own style of prayer, I have wanted to improve upon my prayers for others. And lately, I have come across a lot of people to pray for. People I know directly, people I know through others, and people I have seen on tv or read about online. There has seemingly been this big sign everywhere I look saying: PRAY FOR THEM! And so naturally I have been throwing my arms up in the air and saying, “I DON’T KNOW HOW.”

In the past, I might have just let the prayer requests pass me by. But this year I have felt the pull to pray stronger than ever before.

So, I started making a list.

Whenever someone asked for prayer, or when I saw a friend or acquaintance or complete stranger that I thought needed prayer, I would put their name on a list on my iPhone, and then, occasionally, I’d glance at it.

This counts, I thought to myself.

I was intentionally keeping their names at the front of my mind, I was making God a checklist that he could run down, and thus, I was praying for people.

While I don’t necessarily think this is incorrect, I quickly began to feel like it wasn’t enough. I was being called to do more. To pray more.

So, I started reading their names out loud.

I would say a name and then mention the reasons that person needed prayer. But then, like before, I felt self-conscious that I wasn’t saying enough or that I wasn’t praying the “right” prayer.

But then I realized that God already knows the right prayer. He knows exactly what that person needs, and he knows exactly why I put their name on my list. I don’t have to know or say the “perfect” prayer for it to be a meaningful one. And I can’t let the fear of not saying the “right” words keep me from saying any at all.

So, I wrote “the name prayer.”

It is not the only prayer I pray, but it is one that I pray often. It helps me stick to a prayer routine, and it cuts out a lot of the self-consciousness that I’ve previously felt while trying to pray for other people. When I find a moment of stillness and silence—which for me is often right before bed—I will read this prayer aloud, followed by the names on my list.

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Dear God,

I lift up each person on this list. They are all on here for different reasons and all need different prayers. So I pray that as I say their names you would hear the prayer they need. I pray that you would comfort those who need comforting, heal those who need healing, and draw close those who feel lost. I pray that you meet each and every person where they are, where they need you most, and that you would fill them with hope and surround them with love.

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If you need prayer today, I’d be happy to pray for you. You don’t have to explain why, or know how to express the exact prayer you need, just simply leave a comment with your name and I will add you to my list.

And if you are looking for an easy way to start praying for other people, this might be a great place to start. Open a note on your iPhone and make a list, look (and listen) for people who need prayer, and simply speak their name alongside this prayer. God will know what they need. God will do the rest. ❤

Let’s Have a Funeral

I think it’s natural to do a lot of reflecting on your younger self. To try and connect to the person you were as a kid, as an adolescent, as a young adult, etc. It’s always interesting to recall the things you hoped for and dreamed about, and to notice the differences in what you expected to happen in your life and what did happen.

I think about my younger self all the time. I think about that high school girl, assuming she had it all figured out, convinced she knew the exact timeline of her life to come. Little did she know, things would go differently than she planned. Much differently.

The funny thing is, if she somehow contacted me now to ask questions about our future, I wouldn’t tell her that it’s bad. I wouldn’t tell her to be devastated for the way things have gone. I wouldn’t tell her that every hard thing we’ve walked through, everything that didn’t go our way, everything that we’d dreamed up that didn’t come true (either yet or at all), doesn’t make this future unsatisfying. It just makes it different.

Still, on my bad days I think about the things that didn’t (or haven’t) happened. I think about the ways my younger self might be bummed. And I think about the things that make me bummed. This future, while hopeful and wonderful in its own way, is different than what I imagined. And sometimes I like to harp on the things that could have gone differently, and on the things that might exist (or still exist) if they had.

But the truth of the matter is, they didn’t.

Things did not go the way I planned.

But things happened. So many things. Good and bad. And I became a better, stronger, more vibrant, confident and understanding person. If I’m being honest with myself, had I gotten what I wanted, when I wanted, I probably would have been lost along the way. And THAT (unlike some of my dreams that can still come true) might have been something I lost forever.

SO, I’m hosting a funeral. And it’s open.

You might have heard of an “open house” before, but this is an “open funeral.”

And by that I mean, anyone is welcome to join—to cohost their own.

Do you have any old daydreams that your mind likes to bring up whenever you’re feeling low?

Do you have any old pictures of your life that like to stand in front of your line of sight, tainting everything you have and making you focus only on what you don’t?

Are you ready to let go of your past expectations and embrace your current reality?

I am.

Quite frankly, I’m tired of my mind telling me that because x, y and z didn’t go as I planned: I’m not happy. Or that I’m a failure. Or that I’ve missed the window to find all the good things.

I’m tired of living in the imagined life I could have had, and I’m ready to live the life I’m in.

I’m ready to let that old daydream go. It was a good guess, a beautiful idea, but it’s not what happened. And the sooner I embrace that, the sooner I can find the beautiful here where I truly am.

Do you have any daydreams you’re ready to lay to rest? Do you have any old blueprints for your life that you’re ready to pull off the wall?

Let them go.

They’re not doing you any favors.

Who you are and where you are might not be what you expected, but then, life might have thrown you curveballs you never could have predicted.

Lay the old plans to rest, throw them six feet down. Say a few words and then let them go.

Don’t be afraid to be happy in this new reality, and don’t be afraid to guess again—to daydream again and again.

A Repost for My Fellow Tough Eggs

I don’t have a new post for this week. But I have recently been reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and so this post from a few years back has been on my mind.

Re-reading it was a good reminder that being an introvert does not mean you are an incomplete extrovert. It doesn’t mean that you are less interesting or less important of a person. The world is made of both introverts and extroverts, so it is not our job to try and become something we’re not. It’s our goal to become and to appreciate exactly who we are.

Some of us are tough eggs. And that’s okay.

The world needs tough eggs.


Often when I meet someone new, or when I see someone for the first time in a long time, or sometimes for no reason at all, I feel very shy and quiet and unable to start, continue, or enjoy a conversation.

I put a lot of pressure on myself, demanding, THIS IS ON YOU, and make myself believe that whenever a conversation goes stale, or when someone opts to sit or stand with someone else, or when the stranger I meet at the supermarket doesn’t immediately fall in love with me like the movies told me they would, it’s because I’m boring or unlikeable or pathetic—or a healthy combination of all three.

Anyone else with me on this?

Anyone else wish they had that magic they see in other people? That ability to talk about anything and everything to anyone and everyone. That something that draws people to them without even meaning to. That ease.

I do.

And while I think it’s something I’ll always strive for, and as much as I believe that you can challenge yourself and grow and acclimate and learn, there comes a point when we have to realize that we are not required to be that kind of person.

We don’t have to be the person that knows exactly what to say all the time. We don’t have to talk to anyone and everyone about anything and everything. Some of us are simply tougher eggs to crack and you just have to give us a little more time.

So, to my fellow tough eggs, let me just say that I am with you. You are not alone in feeling like you should do more, be more. You are not the only one sitting there internally screaming, “SAY SOMETHING.” You are not boring or uninteresting or pathetic. You just need time. And anyone worth having in your life will give you that time. So be patient with yourself.


Be yourself.

And take these quotes from Quiet into consideration:

“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”

“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, and insight — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply.”

You can find the original post here.

A Golden Birthday in Nashville (Part 2)

Monday March 21st, 2022

On Monday, the birthday-day!, our first stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame. We walked up and down aisles of country music history, recognizing some faces, and learning about others. My mom has always been a fan of country music, so it was fun to hear songs that she’d played for me throughout my childhood, and to see her face light up in recognition of those that reminded her of hers.

Music history is special. It weaves its way into all of our lives, defining moments we will remember forever. As we walked among the crowds, I liked to imagine all of the shoulders being tapped, and hushed stories being shared, saying things like, “this reminds me of ____” or “I first heard this when ___.”

Even though we might not notice, we all have soundtracks that define our lives and unlock memories that we might not even remember we still have. I know for me (in the country music world at least) I have fond memories of Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Amy Grant, and Crystal Bernard, and hearing them helps me connect with that little girl that heard them for the first time—be it in my mom’s car on the way to school or on the cd player in the living room—twenty years ago.

On our way out, my mom and I designed this country music *star*, designing her persona from her shoes to her hair. Personally, I think she looks like the love child of Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift, which sounds like an absolute dream of an artist.

From the Country Music Hall of Fame, we made our way to Yee Haw Brewing Co. for a drink and some lunch. I ordered a watermelon margarita and some tacos, and while I remember them being good, they were supremely overshadowed by the pretzel that we ordered. It was gigantic, it was delicious, and I will probably think about it for the rest of my life. That being said, it was so good that it was about 75% gone before I even considered taking a picture. So you will just have to go to Nashville to try one for yourself.

In the same building as Yee Haw Brewing is Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, so after lunch a big group walked over to do a moonshine tasting. I sat it out, but happily leaned on the bar to watch everyone’s mouths pucker and eyes water—especially after tasting the 128 proof moonshine known as Blue Flame. Among the other offerings—some of which we brought home with us—were moonshine pickles, moonshine cherries, and Mountain Java moonshine, which I heard tastes a *little* like chocolate milk, and makes an excellent addition to your morning coffee if you need an extra strong start to your day.

Around 6:00p.m that evening, we walked from our building to Bakersfield, a Mexican restaurant hosting Tanner’s birthday dinner. I should also note that earlier in the day, we were all given matching hats that said “TS 3/21”. The TS being Tanner’s initials and the date obviously being his birthday. With our group, that was essentially the size of a baseball team, we turned quite a few heads in our matching gear. The red, white and blue coloring of the hats made us look like we might be campaigning for an upcoming election, though I think a few people looked at us fearfully as if we might be recruiting for a cult. Either way, we loved them, and we rocked them for the remainder of the night.

After dinner, we headed to Luke Bryan’s bar (Luke Bryan’s 32 Bridge), which had a very mellow vibe. A pair of gentlemen stood on stage singing classic country songs we all knew, and we happily sang along, occasionally dancing, and constantly pointing at Tanner in the hope that they might sing happy birthday.

We then walked over to Kid Rock’s bar (Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk and Steakhouse). It was nice out, so we headed up to the rooftop and sat, sipping on our drinks, taking the occasional shot, and singing along to the band playing 80’s music.

After a little while, we decided it was time to move on, but then they played “Time of My Life”from Dirty Dancing, and so we all took off towards the stage and danced our Patrick Swayze hearts out. I then realized that—because I am the mom of the friend group—I’d packed snacks in my purse earlier in the day. So I pulled out a pack of fruit snacks which, at 11:00pm, with alcohol sponsored energy, felt like the greatest thing to ever happen. There is a video from that night of me dancing with my hands over my head. One fist is tightly closed because I am keeping my remaining fruit snacks intact for continued snacking. #snackdedication

When we finally did walk downstairs, we only got as far as the second floor (there are five total). Because on the second floor, you can look out over the first floor, which had people dancing on top of the bar, a live band singing while a bartender poured a beer on someone, and people cheering, singing and raising their glasses all over the room.

At first, I think we all stopped just to watch. They were playing good music, but it was also perhaps some of the best people watching around. But then, the music got us. We started dancing and then we kept dancing. The bar started to empty and we just kept on dancing. We jumped and we sang and we tipped our Tanner themed hats. We put our arms around each other and belted out notes into our empty cups. We stomped our boots and clapped our hands. It felt like a celebration for Tanner and a celebration of music. We twirled and laughed and took pictures that would forever bring us back to those moments. The world felt normal—or at least this new kind of normal. I felt appreciative of this night, as I knew how far we’d come to be able to have it.

We walked home, talking a mile a minute, already reminiscing about this night, about the night before, and everything in between. My FitBit buzzed, letting me know I hit 10,000 steps—two hours into the day—and my feet—this time in tennis shoes—kept dancing while I brushed my teeth, not stopping until I again collapsed into bed.

Tuesday March 22nd, 2022

Tuesday morning was a bit of an earlier wake up call. Especially when you consider that we’d been out dancing only a matter of hours beforehand. Our group walked over to meet everyone at their AirBnb just up the street, as a bus was picking us up to drive us to Lynchburg.

If you are a country music fan, the town of Lynchburg might sound familiar, even if you’ve never been to Tennessee. This is because it is the home (the one and ONLY home) to Jack Daniels whiskey.

Being a loyal Jameson family (sorry) and having toured the Jameson distillery in Ireland, we were curious to learn about this American whiskey that, while not our number one, is still a staple in our houses—especially the Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey.

In the end, we learned a lot about the making of whiskey, a lot about the man himself, Jack Daniels—who casually started working in a distillery at the age of eight—and a lot about the variety of whiskeys the distillery makes. I bought a Tennessee Honey baseball hat to support our trusted pal, but left with my loyalty to Jameson unshaken. (Sorry, again.)

By the time we got home that evening, our group was entirely too exhausted to even consider going out again. We’d been running on an average of 4-5 hours of sleep, and were set to fly home the next day. So, we robed up—embracing our last night as *penthouse people*—and ordered in some pizza. A rainstorm blew in and drenched the city, sending many people on the streets below running for cover. Wind whistled through the buildings and cars moved slow. We all went to bed early that night, and our bodies thanked us for it.

Wednesday March 23rd, 2022

On our last morning in Nashville, we ate a marvelous carb loaded breakfast at Another Broken Egg Café. I ordered the Bourbon Street Pancakes, which I felt was a good send off—not to mention delicious.

By 12:30pm we were out of our suite and in an Uber on the way to the airport, sad the trip was over, and even sadder that we had to go to work the next morning.

After the plane took off, I sat, looking out the window, hoping that the trip had been all that Tanner hoped it would be. For me, it was even more. The weeks prior to leaving had been chaotic and I was a little nervous I wouldn’t be able to unwind enough to truly enjoy the trip. But I’d had so much fun dancing and singing and jumping around like I didn’t have a care in the world. I’d loved wearing my hat (emblazoned with Tanner’s initials) backwards in a honky tonk, like a fraternity brother on spring break. I’d loved the city of Nashville and its quirky architecture and lively energy. I’d loved this break from reality, from everything that had been weighing me down at home.

Even though I was exhausted, and so excited to be reunited with my pillow—and my normal bedtime—I was going to miss this trip, and the people I took it with.

I was already dreaming up our next one, excited that someday, that dream would be a reality.

A Golden Birthday in Nashville (Part 1)

About three years ago my cousin Tanner told me and my family that he wanted to celebrate his twenty first birthday in Nashville, Tennessee.  

Funnily enough, we were in Paris at the time, waiting for the clock to strike ten so that the Eiffel Tower—which we took to calling “Eif”—would light up. Our group of nine cheers-ed to the idea, both wishing it was closer, and praying that the trip we were already on would find a way to last a little longer.

Like everyone else, we didn’t know what was to come. And we had no idea that we’d spend much of the “countdown to Nashville” locked inside. But, when things started opening back up, and flights to Nashville went on sale, we booked, we prayed and then we waited.

On Saturday, March 19th, that waiting ended.

Saturday March 19th, 2022

As we made our way down 2nd Avenue, sitting in bumper to bumper Saturday night traffic in downtown Nashville, music played from seemingly every direction. A tractor drove by towing a trailer full of people dancing and drinking, pedestrians walked down the street in dresses, boots and cow print pants. Meanwhile, our Uber driver yelled, “I DON’T SEE MY DESTINATION!” at his navigation system, so we politely asked to get out, suggesting that we were close enough and could walk the rest of the way.

“This is us,” my dad said, pointing to a building.

As far as lodging went, I had no real expectations going in. I’m a bargain hunter by trade, and had done my part by finding us a great deal on flights, so I assumed my dad had found a hotel that he simply liked the look of.  But when the doors opened to the fourth (and top) floor of our building, and a key code let us into the Penthouse apartment that my dad had found a good deal on, we all walked in, absolutely speechless.

It was a fun space, with both eclectic and nostalgic design schemes. There was a piano, a pool table, an arcade machine, a lava lamp, coasters that looked both like floppy discs and records, a picture of a young Queen Elizabeth edited to give her piercings and neck tattoos, and lots of books ranging from Nashville themed cookbooks to Marvel based dictionaries.

There were 4 bedrooms (each of which had at least one cloth robe emblazoned with the building’s name hanging in the closet), four bathrooms, a living room with a couch and four comfortable chairs, a kitchen, and a wet bar. And did I mention we were only a block from Broadway Street?

My family has never been wealthy, or flashy, or really ever been one that regularly “splurges”, but like most people (perhaps more than some and less than others) we had been put through the ringer in the last two years, and so walking up and down the length of the suite, marveling that it was “all for us!!”, felt like a true testament to all that we’d made it though, and all that we’d come to celebrate.

After we unpacked, we walked over to Gray & Dudley, as we wanted to eat, drink, and meet up with the guest of honor.  Tanner was turning 21 on the 21st of March, making it his golden birthday, and it almost felt surreal to actually be in Nashville, primed to celebrate it. Our trip to Europe felt like 10 years ago, but now that we were here, in Nashville, taking this trip that had once only been an idea, made it feel like just yesterday we were sitting in that Parisian café, dreaming it up. 

With our group of seven, we made the group total 17. Tanner’s family, friends and cousins had also made the trip, and we all gathered around a corner of the bar, hugging, smiling and chatting.

Even though most of us knew each other already, it still felt like a bit of an ice breaker. We were all still in our plane attire, with our eyes a little heavy from the 5ish hours of travel and the anticipation of the trip to come. We would be each other’s community for the trip. The people you would look for if you got separated in a bar or a restaurant, the faces and voices you would recognize up ahead on the street or coming around the corner behind you. Tanner had brought us all together and now we’d all be a part of each other’s memories, writing stories on this weekend of our shared histories, and taking pictures that would eventually make us say, “remember when?”

We’d made it to Nashville and now it was time to enjoy it.

Sunday March 20th, 2022

At about 12:00pm on Sunday, we all made our way over to Centennial Park to see the Parthenon, which is a 90-year-old replica of the Greek structure originally built in 447 BC. (That’s 2500 years ago, y’all)

It is an imposing, beautiful structure that I can hardly believe just exists in the middle Nashville, Tennessee.

Immediately upon getting out of the car, I was taking pictures from every angle, knowing that none of them would ever really do it justice. It’s the kind of structure that makes you feel small, and when I asked my sister (who graciously obliged) to take off running down one of the cement pathways, I was reminded just how small we are.

Cute, but small.

From there, we made our way to the Belmont Mansion.

Located on the Belmont University campus, the Belmont Mansion is listed as the largest house built in Tennessee prior to the Civil War. Moving from room to room (and trying desperately to abide by the “no touching” rules) we learned about Adelicia Acklen and her crazy life, which included three husbands, ten children (six of which died young), and of course, this expansive property which, at the time of completion, included lavish gardens, and a zoo.

Next, we headed to the historic Ryman auditorium. After checking in for our tour, we were led into a side room to watch what I assumed would be a standard informative film about the building. Instead, it was a fun, creative performance that not only taught us about the history of the Ryman, but made me both excited and invested in its (hopefully) bright and prosperous future.

At approximately 4:00pm, we were more or less starving. It had been a slow onset of travel hanger that I think, if left unchecked for much longer, could have escalated into violence. Thankfully, we found the Assembly Food Hall that had (among other things) chicken, pizza, edible no bake cookie dough, and alcohol just in time.

While we ate, we made a game plan for the night ahead. Tanner’s birthday was the next day and we wanted to be out celebrating on Broadway by midnight. So, we decided that everyone would meet at our place, where we would pregame and play a few rounds of beer pong and pool before heading out on the town.

We walked out of our building at about 11:55pm, so right as we reached Broadway, we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to sing happy birthday loud and proud.

We then headed to Jason Aldean’s bar, with Tanner leading the way. He walked up to the bouncer, who checked his ID once, then twice, then said, “hey, happy birthday man” before letting him through, officially starting his career as a legal bar hopper.

Once inside, we were a little bummed to find that the second floor (the country music floor) was closed for the night, so we climbed the stairs all the way to the top floor, which was blasting hip hop music and was more reminiscent of a downtown LA club than I think any of us were hoping. We walked out onto the rooftop and cheers-ed our drinks, knowing that the night was young and there were plenty more bars to choose from.

Similar to Vegas, Broadway comes alive at night. The dark sky gives the neon a chance to really glow, asking you to “come in!” “try this place!” “check this out!” We did a slow spin on our heels, taking in all of our options, each of us willing to go wherever the birthday boy had in mind. He pointed at a bar across the street, but then decided to peek in Tin Roof first, as there was a live band playing and the lead singer had an incredible voice.

We walked in, ordered some drinks and then started dancing. Our big group made the once scant bar look like it was hosting a small wedding reception. We were high energy and already comfortable with one another. We took turns walking up to make requests until eventually the lead singer asked what had brought us all in.

“TANNER!” we all shouted back at her.

She squinted her eyes, looking for Tanner in the crowd, and then nodded, “you look like a Tanner. You look like every boy that broke my heart in high school.”

Seeing as most of us are related to Tanner, we all shook our heads defensively. “NO! Tanner is great! This is a NICE Tanner!!”

We continued to dance, our group bantering back and forth with the band. Then my aunt, Tanner’s mom, bought the band a round of shots, which prompted them to sing, “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, except they changed the lyrics to say, “Tanner’s mom, has got it going on!” which we all sang at the absolute top of our lungs.

At 2:30am, the band signed off and the bar started to close. We walked outside to find Broadway much quieter than we’d last seen it. We had danced for almost two hours, and I was limping like a baby giraffe in my heeled booties that had seemed like such a good/cute idea when we left the house.

A couple people stopped to get late night gyros, both to soak up some alcohol and to account for the hunger that we’d worked up dancing the night away. Then we all collapsed into bed. Ears ringing, (at least my) feet throbbing, and curiosity building for what adventures awaited us the next day—or rather, the same day, in a matter of hours.

Work For and From the Inside

About a week ago my mom, sister and I went to get massages.

We’d each received a gift certificate for Christmas and were finally able to make (and keep) an appointment, since the first couple were cancelled due to one of us having COVID.

We were very excited, as we’d booked—for the first time ever—ninety-minute massages. And with a myriad of different stressors weighing on us from the past month or so, we were ready (and desperate) to *relax*.

I had even asked for the deep tissue massage, which, if you happened to read this post regarding my feelings on my first ever massage, will let you know 1) how much of the massage Kool-Aid I’ve drank over the last few years, and 2) how much I wanted the stress more or less beaten out of me. I wanted that stress to run for its life. I wanted a stress exorcism.

When the masseuse asked if there were any areas to focus on, I said: neck, shoulders and back.

They have forever been where I hold everything. From the annoyance of that bad driver I encountered on the freeway yesterday, to that mean thing a girl said to me in high school 15 years ago. It’s also where, for a long time, my muscles were working overtime to keep my head on my shoulders due to my bad posture—that I’ve since put in a lot of energy (and a lot of money at the chiropractor) to correct.

Needless to say, I love having my neck, shoulders and back massaged. It feels like ironing a wrinkly shirt. And since it had been a while since my last massage, I was sure there were going to be quite a few wrinkles to tend to.

To my surprise, as I lay face down on the table and the masseuse dug into what seemed like the very core of my spine, assumedly finding evidence that I still hadn’t fully forgiven someone who wronged me in the seventh grade, he asked, “do you ever do any kind of stretching or foam rolling?”

I tried to nod, but then remembered my face was framed by the pillow, making my neck borderline immovable.

“Yes,” I said. “I foam roll my back a few times a week”—something that was recommended by my chiropractor—“and I try to do yoga two or three times a week.”

He made a quick “mhm” noise, and I assumed it was partnered with a nod.

“I can tell,” he said. “While you have tension in your back, there are no knots at all. So your efforts are paying off.”

I lay there, letting his words repeat in my head.

I thought about all the anxiety I felt going into our day at the spa. I always got nervous knowing I’d have to spend time in my bathing suit—or naked, under the sheets of the massage table—overly critical of my body and how it compared to others.

I thought of all the times I’d done yoga, or gone for a run or a walk, hoping that the efforts I was putting in would garner positive results that I could see in the mirror.

I thought of all the times I’d hidden my body behind baggy clothes, anxious hands, or the body of someone else.

And then I thought about how my body, my muscles, and my bones themselves might be benefiting from my exercise, my (mostly) healthy diet, my efforts to meditate, and to express myself both emotionally, physically, and creatively.

Those efforts might not show in the mirror. They might not match up to some kind of image I have in my head of what a body is “supposed” to look like. But they do change the way my body feels. They do the work on the inside of my body.

We are told so often to focus on physical results and to hit monetary goals, when so much benefit can come from doing work for and from the inside first. I know what it feels like when I eat healthy, when I exercise, when I don’t slouch, when I can relax into deep, honest conversations with those I trust. These things make me feel light, they bring an ease to my days, and, apparently, give me the iron to take to that wrinkly shirt.

After the massage, I lay on one of the daybeds beside my mom, reading a book and listening to the sound of falling water. Then I took a long, hot shower and blow dried my hair. On the way home, we picked up dinner from one of my favorite places and then sat on the couch and watched a movie.

It was a great day, not because things looked perfect on the outside, but because they felt good from the inside.

A Weekend of Happy Moments

I had a good weekend.

I wanted to write about it from start to finish, but the more I thought about it, the more I just wanted to highlight the moments that made it especially good. Because sometimes it’s not always the big moments, the obvious moments, the moments everyone can see from the outside. Sometimes it’s the smallest moments, the ones you may not even notice until they’re over. Lucky for me, I had a combination of both this weekend—big moments and small—and I want to share some of them.

Friday 4:30 p.m.

My mom and I, dressed in robes, walked into a quiet room where a few day beds faced a waterfall display. There was no music playing, no surrounding conversations, just the sound of water quietly running. We each had a cup of lemon water that we set on the end tables next to our respective day beds, and we took out our Kindles to read for a little while. Our bodies were fully relaxed, having just been treated to 90-minute massages, and we seemed to melt into those day beds, our robes tied loosely around our waists and our minds able to escape into our books. A half hour slipped by, then an hour, and we lay there, content and relaxed.

Friday 9:00 p.m.

I was curled under a blanket in my parents’ living room, watching West Side Story with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my grandpa. My grandpa and I have always bonded over our love of musicals, and so we’d wanted to watch the new adaptation of West Side Story together. The moment Tony and Maria first see each other at the dance, my 92-year-old grandpa said, wistfully, “this is called love at first sight.

Saturday 9:30 a.m.

It was 75 degrees outside and perfectly clear in Camarillo, and I was picking lemons on an expansive property that looked out over the city. I was part of a group of volunteers picking fruit for Food Forward, and I was filling a bucket with lemons and carrying it up the hill in order to fill the boxes we’d be donating to food shelters. The sun was out, and the lemon trees were blossoming, making the air the perfect blend of floral and citrus. I was sweating, and, at times, panting, as I carried that bucket (20 pounds when full) up the hill over and over, but I knew I was doing good work, and I was happy to be meeting new people.

Saturday 11:30 a.m.

I stopped at Jamba Juice—my tradition after completing a volunteer shift—and got small smoothie and an apple cinnamon pretzel. One of my favorite country songs (“Raised on it” by Sam Hunt) came on the radio, and I took a sip of my smoothie, said, “this is DELICIOUS” out loud, then blasted the song and sang every word.

Saturday 2:50 p.m.

I was standing on the shore of my favorite lake, having driven up to spend the weekend at my family’s cabin. My dad was on the phone with my sister, asking if she could see him, me and my mom from the boat she was fishing on with her boyfriend, Will. They were a good way away from us, and I was waving my arms and dancing, hoping to both get her attention and make her laugh. We were letting her know that we had arrived at the lake, so that they could make their way over to “pick us up.” Little did she know, a small group of friends and family were standing behind a tree, waiting for the signal to come down and watch as Will got down on one knee in the boat and asked her to marry him.

Saturday 3:00 p.m.

She said yes!

Saturday 4:00 p.m.

I was sitting on the boat (named “Tiny Guy”)—which my sister received as present from Will last year—for the very first time. Will was driving, Natalee was sitting beside me, and Will’s mom was sitting behind me. We were making our way from the shore where we’d all gathered after the proposal to the dock, and we couldn’t help but comment on the perfection of the day. The sun was bright and warm, and the sky was perfectly clear—not a cloud in sight. I’d been on that lake so many times growing up, always with my sister right beside me, fishing and singing and creating inside jokes that we still quote to this day, and now there I was, seeing her future unfold in the brightest way, surrounded by new family, with new memories awaiting us in the days ahead.

Sunday 2:30 p.m.

I was sitting on a recliner in the living room, trying to throw a bottle cap into a glass vase. After spending the morning and early afternoon lounging around, I proposed the game to my sister’s now fiancé Will. “How much would you give me if I made a bottle cap in that vase?” To be fair, the vase, set atop the fireplace mantle, already had about ten bottle caps in it, and I was wondering how impressed he would be if I could add to the collection from my chair. What unfolded was nearly 30 minutes of the three of us trying to make the bottle cap in the vase, and cheering as if we’d just won the World Series whenever one of us did.

Sunday 3:50 p.m.

I was sitting on a bench eating a sandwich, looking out at the lake. We’d picked up the sandwiches from the local market, and then parked our car in a shady spot on the highway before walking down the small hill to get to the lake. It was a little breezy, but the sun was still out and a few boats were making laps around the lake. We sat, sometimes talking, sometimes just taking bite after bite, soaking in the mountain air and the easy happiness that the weekend seemed to be made of.

Sunday 6:45 p.m.

I was in my car, singing my heart out on my drive home. The sun was only just starting to set since daylight saving time had given us back our evenings, and it was turning the sky pink. Every part of the weekend had gone right, from start to finish, and I was both ecstatic and exhausted. But the sunset seemed to promise only more good things, only more good moments. So I kept driving, kept singing, and made sure to take a few pictures once I pulled into the driveway at home.

It was the prettiest farewell to the happiest of weekends.