Spring.

A few thoughts on this time of year:

I'm always tired. Perpetually tired. Which goes against every fiber of my brain and body that wants to soak up spring and all that it brings to the table. When it smells like rain and jasmine and freshly-cut grass and the occasional smoked brisket around every turn (because I live in Texas), it's all I can do to not camp out in my front yard until the ants drive me away. Except that I'm tired. And all I want to do is nap. In my bed. In the dark. And maybe eat a little bit of that smoked brisket. Spring is fleeting, but SLEEP. 

Speaking of Texas, it really is the most amazing time to be a resident of this little place called Austin. Spring is when the city likes to show off a little. The temperature lands somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees and the color green crescendos everywhere you look. The lakes are filled with boats and paddleboarders and kayakers and the restaurant patios are ripe with places to sit and sip and watch the world go by.  People walk/run/bike/hike/galavant everywhere and driving to and from work is only made a little more terrifying by the recent increase of electric scooters in the bike lanes. It's a wild world we live in, folks, and I feel lucky to call such a lovely place home. When summer rolls around, I'll probably complain. A lot. But, for now? I'm all in.

Also, did you guys know that I like baseball now? I know. I'm shocked. I blame that guy I married. But really, I just like to have a sport to follow that can create false drama in my life. While baseball isn't the most exciting game, the drama can happen so swiftly that you don't even know what hit you. What an adrenaline rush. This time of year is also when college baseball really starts to matter and the 243 games that occur per week actually mean something. I've learned to actually appreciate the simplicity of athletic competitions that last four hours and allow you to multi-task while watching. Open a window, grab a book, and turn on a baseball game. Spring at its finest, indeed.

Finally, guys, how fun is planning summer vacations? Now that we aren't planning a wedding, we can plan other things, like trips! And trips! And trips! Rob and I are in the midst of mapping out a two-week trek from San Francisco to Portland in June/July and I've become a little obsessive about it. Because we are on a budget, we are working to save where we can, but all I want to do is plan our meals. Do you think this is correlated at all with my lack of motivation to work on my "summer body?" Asking for a friend.

 

 

self-care

This weekend, for the first morning in a very long time, I woke up feeling heavy and weighted down with the kind of sadness that I hoped had passed me by long ago. I immediately felt frustrated- angry that I was feeling melancholy without a logical reason and agitated that I was having to deal with something that no longer felt familiar or connected to who I am. As I stared up at the ceiling, I worked hard to align my thoughts in a positive and tidy sequence, one in front of another. I asked myself if I'd missed a dose of my medication or if there was a biological connection for feeling out of sorts. (I couldn't think of one.) I then marched through my list of things I'm thankful for - my home, my people, my health, my job. I let myself think about the weekend and the sunshine that I would surely get to experience. I thought about what I'd already accomplished this past week and the things that I felt proud of myself for. I then mentally scheduled a time in the near future where I could write in my journal or read a book I love or sit in a quiet place and let the sloshing in my head level out a bit. I said a very quiet prayer that sounded something like please help me see the good today and then I forced myself out of bed and into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Moving always helps. Or it always did. So does getting out of bed to make coffee.

Today, my self-care looks a little different than it has in the past. This isn't just because I'm married and sharing a small house with two large dogs and a very tall man. And it isn't just because I'm older, busier, and adjusting to a new, evolving set of priorities. Instead, I think that maybe I've just gotten better at being kinder to myself. I've relented to the fact that my introverted nature will not always get hours filled with quiet, lovely, lonely spaces (and that I will survive!) and that my need for perfectionism cannot (and will not) trump my pursuit of finding the smallest opportunities for optimism and joy. For me, self-care is no longer only an idea bound in an all-or-nothing approach. I cannot immerse myself in yoga, or church, or writing, or diet, or music, or friendships, or family in the ways that I used to. I cannot give myself over to feeling better in all of the ways, all of the time. But, I can get out of bed quietly, feed our sweet dogs, pay a little extra attention to the morning light streaming through the kitchen window, and do my best to make a decent cup of coffee. I can acknowledge feeling sad, acknowledge that it won't last forever, and then look for ways throughout the day to slowly lighten the load. And when I'm not perfect in these things, I can forgive myself, and I can try again. And try again. And then I can try again, again. Because sometimes letting ourselves off the hook is the best self-care we can give, even if it feels a little bit too much like failure. (It isn't.)

So, this week, I'm working on letting myself off the hook. I'm looking for the small moments and doing my best to let the good stuff outweigh the bad (and the sad.) Sometimes it feels tedious but it almost always feels like progress. No perfectionism here. Instead, I'm putting the kettle on and I'm keeping the windows open and I'm putting pen to paper, amen.

 

 

late bloomer

I’m what some might call a late bloomer. By this, I mean it took me a little longer than most to find (and claim) the kinds of things that make me, well, me. My husband is also a bit of a late bloomer himself and so it comes as no surprise that we did not decide to get married until we were 35 years old. While this may not seem late to some, here in mid-America, it’s easy to feel as though you are bound to an eternal life of solo microwave dinners and cat toys if you aren’t attached to someone by age 30. But growing up is hard, and being an adult is harder. When Rob and I met, we were still figuring out our dreams and working hard to identify our goals. We were committed to the work of becoming better for one another and, in the end, it took just a little bit longer for us than for most. While my path has looked different from many of my friends, I know that it is not by accident. I wasn’t ready to settle down in my twenties, and, truth be told, I was barely ready in my thirties. Rob just happened to come along with a very convincing head of hair that made it almost impossible for me to say no. And I'm so very glad.

Somewhere along the way, I accrued a significant amount of school debt that sounded scary and felt heavy. While I was very honest with Rob about this from the beginning, it has always been difficult knowing that he would be taking on such a burden when we officially joined forces. Because he is wonderful, he has never, not for one moment, made me feel as though this is something that I needed to be ashamed of. Instead, he has led us down a path of financial action that has been swift, direct, and only a little bit terrifying. Our plan is to be debt-free in two years. This means that we live off of 60% of our income and that the other 40% goes towards debt. This means that we live in a very small duplex that I like to call Brady Bunch Chic and that I drive an old, ugly Toyota Corolla that only has one hubcap. This also means that we rarely buy new clothes and that we diligently meal-plan and that my latte habit has had to be substantially negotiated. We splurge on occasional meals out and gym memberships and travel. I also still get my hair highlighted because, well, I had to draw the line somewhere. I'm not an animal. 

All of this is to say, sometimes it can be very easy to feel like we’ve missed the mark. There are days where I feel behind, immature, and increasingly slow in the race towards becoming a responsible adult. Most of our friends are buying their first, second, or third homes, driving nice cars, having precious, squishy babies, and building up their 401Ks. We, however, are still complaining about rental terms, doing our best to care for our two dogs, and wearing clothes circa 2006. It’s perpetually tempting to feel embarrassed about where we are in working towards our goals and to let shame outweigh our decision to do things a little differently. And It is all too easy to give in to the act of comparing our lives to those around us and to let our joy be dented and damaged. Social media doesn't help. Culture doesn't help. And HGTV can go take a running leap. What a racket.

But at the end of the day when I lie down next to Rob and listen to his chest rise and fall, I know how incredibly rich we are. And I mean that sincerely. I'm so grateful for the life that we have created and the family that we have. We are healthy and we are mobile and we have a trove of stories to share. I'm proud of our financial discipline and I know that it will ultimately allow us to pursue bigger and better and wilder dreams. I know we are not defined by what we drive or what we wear and that life goes on, even with a leaky roof and ugly carpet. We are a part of the very small minority of people in the world who do not have to worry about where our next meal will come from. We can pay our bills. We have running water. We have educations. We are unbelievably blessed.

And so, on the days that I forget, and in the moments when I let the thoughts of what I want outshine the thoughts of what I have, well, I do my best to remember. I hold on to Marlo's snuggles and to Rob's smiles and to my friends' sweet text messages and I remember that life is not measured by what we have but instead by who we love. I'm so glad it took me a while to get where I am. I'm grateful for the challenges and for the detours. And, in the end, I'm thankful for all of my forgetting. Because it is in the forgetting that I am able to do the sweet work of remembering how very wealthy I am.

 

Our Very Favorite Day.

When I look back at our wedding day, it's hard for me to remember exactly how we pulled it off. But then, I think all of the many people who chipped in, our friends and family who made the trek to Telluride (some from across the globe!) and the ways in which our people pulled together, and suddenly it becomes very, very clear. What a day. What a group. We couldn't be more thankful.

I've gotten lots of questions about the wedding, and while I'm not usually one to get too obnoxious about these sorts of things, I thought I would share some of our favorite memories and parts of the day. If anything, it's the best kind of exercise in gratitude, to look back and see how such a special day, place, and group of people collided in such an unforgettable way. A destination wedding is no easy feat, especially when you decide on Telluride, Colorado, which happens to be a beautiful, rugged, and expensive place to access. While we knew it would be a big ask for our friends and family, we decided to move forward, knowing that whatever the turn out, it would be exactly as it should be. (And it was!)

We found a family ranch (Schmid Ranch) outside of Telluride that rented out a large piece of their property and a small cabin for the weekend. While the fact that it butted up to the iconic (and, for us, ironic) Mt. Wilson was an amazing surprise, it was the large grove of aspen trees that really grabbed at our hearts. We couldn't imagine a more beautiful or appropriate place for us to commit to one another than in a makeshift cathedral of light and aspen leaves, and so we stepped out of our comfort zones and decided to make it happen. However, because the wedding was taking place a long way away from home, it was important to us that the day felt sincere to who we were, and we did our best to include and incorporate as much of ourselves and our loved ones as possible. 

A few favorite details:

In order to keep Texas fully represented, we hauled up cases of Lonestar beer and Topo Chico, and Rob made his favorite rib rub to share with guests. Rob's mom made cheese straws, my mom made caramel corn, and Rob's cousin, Lauren, kindly whipped up some of her famous Lauren's All Purpose salve to keep all of our guests skin soft in the dry mountain air. 

We splurged a bit on a custom suit for Rob, but I had my top made, and I found my skirt at a Nieman's sale. I added a simple top skirt and silk belt, and bought my veil off of a secondhand website, because I'm nothing if not comfortable buying things from strangers on the internet. It was important to me that I feel like myself, and in the end, that meant wearing simple, easy pieces. I also wore my late Mama's pearls wrapped around my wrist and my mom's gold-plated bracelet engraved with my dad's initials, just because. 

My lovely cousin Hope took care of all of my hair and make up needs and my wonderful and gracious cousin Rick performed our ceremony. Prior to the wedding, two of my aunts, Hope and Sandra, hosted a delicious ladies brunch, and Rob's mom and dad threw a really fantastic rehearsal dinner for all who wanted to come.

Because we couldn't imagine having a mountain wedding without some classic bluegrass music, we had a favorite Austin bluegrass band come up to Telluride to keep our guests entertained. They also played all of our music during the ceremony as well as Rob and I's first dance (a Townes Van Zandt jam). Their tunes were the ideal soundtrack to the day.

Rob and I chose to stand with just our siblings at the alter, and we had one of my best friends, Lyndsey, pray for us at the conclusion of our ceremony. It was also important to me to have a "ring passing", in which our rings were passed from guest to guest so that they could provide a prayer or blessing for our marriage. I loved having such a tangible representation of our community baring witness to our commitment to one another. Rob's brother read the poem Love, by Roy Croft and I did my best to not cry. We also decided to write our own vows and, unbeknownst to us, Rob and I both made reference to our dogs and queso. Apparently our love of canines and cheese runs deep.

My dad and I danced to the song Morningbird by Forest Sun, and he cried more than I've ever seen him cry, and Rob and his mom danced to Loves Me Like a Rock by Paul Simon and brought down the house. In order to honor our grandparents, Rob and I invited everyone to dance to a recording of my late grandfather singing When I Fall in Love and it was one of my favorite moments of the entire day.

My wonderful mother-in-law made yards and yards of white bunting that was strung throughout the tent and over the dance floor, dutifully hung by Rob and his older brother Sam, and my dad built a really special wooden swing that we asked all of our guests to sign. My hope is that it will hang from a huge tree in our front yard one day, and that lots of little grubby fingers will trace the names of all of our favorite people who came to see us get married all those years ago

I asked Little Mountain Print Shoppe to create labels for our wine, and they turned out to be one of my very favorite details of the day. For dinner, we served grilled cheeseburgers, corn on the cob, asparagus, and summer salad, and built a big bonfire so that s'mores could be rightfully consumed underneath the stars. I loved looking out from our dance floor and seeing the fire in the distance, knowing (and hoping!) that some good conversations were happening amidst beer and toasted marshmallows.

My dear friend Austin rocked it as DJ at our reception and let me dance to a whole lot of Bruno Mars. Our (new!) friend Shyla and her husband, Brent, (one of my oldest friends from college) came all the way from Singapore to take our truly beautiful photos. Brent also provided a few sips of Japanese whiskey to help calm our nerves, pre-wedding, and was the best all-around cheerleader I could have asked for. 

It was important to Rob that we have a videographer and, because of his love of 8mm film, we recruited the fantastic Paper Lantern Films to make the trek to Colorado, camera in hand. It is one of our favorite mementos from the wedding, and it was such a fun way to capture the nuance and sentiment of it all. (You can see the video here.)

After it was all said and done, Rob and I hopped into his truck and headed down the mountain towards Telluride. We got back just in time to take the gondola up to the top of Mountain Village before it closed. It was such a special ride, sitting beside my new husband in my wedding dress and he in his suit, watching the lights of Telluride twinkle and grow smaller as we sat in silence, smiling, savoring the day. We did our best to take it all in - the cool air, the quiet, the monumental string of moments that had just occurred- and it was the perfect way to begin our married life together.

While lots of small things didn't go as planned, the big things were just as we hoped, and at the end of it all, we got to have a wonderful shindig on a big mountain with some of our favorite people.  I don't know about you, but in my mind, it doesn't get much better than that. We are truly the luckiest.

All photos by Shyla Spead, July 2017.

This week has been a strange one in Austin, Texas. If you keep up with the news, you’ve probably heard that there have been several bombs delivered to unsuspecting homes, concealed in packages, detonating when the packages are moved or opened. Two people have been killed and several others have been injured. Two days ago, a few miles from our house, another bomb exploded, set-off by a tripwire that was supposedly run over by two bicyclists out for an evening ride. Last night, at a Fed Ex office in San Antonio, one more bomb went off, as it had been concealed in a package that, as of now, police suspect was intended to be delivered to somewhere in Austin. These sorts of things are always scary and are far more frequent than we’d like to admit. However, when they occur in your small city, within miles of your home and your friend’s homes and your family’s homes, well, the fear seems to take on a life of its own.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear the past few days, and about how it can grow and shift and enter your mind and heart in ways that you least suspect. Often it comes aggressively – loudly, without warning and without apology. Other times, it walks gently beside you, quietly matching your steps, your breaths, your daily rhythms.

As I was driving last night, windows down and smile on my face, I spotted a strange plastic bin in the middle of the road. In a split-second, my breath caught and a bloody, terrifying image flashed in front of me. I saw an explosion, my car destroyed, my body injured and hurting, and I heard the sirens, the yelling, the chaos that was sure to follow. I imagined all of these things quickly and quietly, before just swerving to miss the strange plastic bin, strewn broken and empty, and void of any threat. And then, just like that, the image disappeared. My breath slowed but I felt my anger rise. The fear had ambushed me. Somewhere between the beautiful sunshine and the smile on my face, it had found its way in. What a sneaky bastard. 

One thing I’ve learned and witnessed through the work that I do is that more often than not, the opposite of helplessness is anger. When we feel helpless, fearful, and without control, we tend to turn towards anger, frustration, and even rage. We are reactive rather than proactive. We isolate ourselves more often. We lash out at the people we love more often. We become blind to the light and instead seek out the darkness. And, in turn, we lose our greatest superpower – the ability to identify, experience, and walk in true joy.

This week, I’m working hard to not let the fear of what is happening in our city derail my ability to find the good in the small things. Yes, I'm acting with wisdom and with caution. But I’m still taking walks in celebration of longer evenings. I’m still laughing with friends. I’m still reading books and drinking wine and buying fresh flowers. I’m still cranking up the music in my car and rolling down my windows to let the sunshine in. And when I feel the fear sneak beside me, I’m offering up prayers for peace and for the loudest kind of silence- that my mind would quiet to the chaos of the news and social media and instead stay the course, fixed on simple joys and the incredible blessing of being alive. 

 

Four Pass Loop, CO

Because we are only a little bit insane, Rob and I decided a few months prior to our wedding that we might as well take advantage of our lag-time in Colorado and do a short backpacking trip before heading to France. I, of course, found immediate intellectual solace in the idea of experiencing literal peaks and valleys so soon after exchanging our wedding vows and Rob, well, he just thought it would be an adventure. So, we committed to the trip, upped our gear game, completed some light training, and mapped out our route. We got married on a Saturday, and by Sunday afternoon we had left Telluride in route to Aspen. Our goal was to complete the entire 26.6 mile Four Pass Loop, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, in three nights, four days. While I'd done some light backpacking, this was the longest and most physically demanding trip that I'd ever taken with a weightier pack, and Rob was really wonderful in helping to make sure we were both prepared in as many ways as we could be. 

However, as often happens, there were just a couple of things that we weren't prepared for. The list is as follows: 

1.) Hitting a deer on the way to the trailhead. 

2.) Getting a half-days late start because of said deer. 

3.) Getting off trail due to late-season snow. 

4.) Having to make some dangerous high water crossings due to said late-season snow.

5.) Me, careening 100 feet down the snowy side of a mountain, hoping to not die (I didn't die).

6.) Rob, following me 100 ft down the snowy side of a mountain, due to said almost death.

7.) Rob, breaking his tailbone because apparently, rocks are hard. 

8.) Having to double back on the trail, due to said broken tailbone.

9.) Also, did I mention that Rob broke his tailbone?

So, give or take a few injuries, things didn't really go according to plan.

But you know what? Even though we weren't able to finish the complete loop like we hoped, we sure as heck got an adventure filled with a few gorgeous peaks and a whole lot of character-cultivating valleys. Rob got to witness me at my very worst (there is a strong chance that I chucked my trekking poles at his head during a particularly poignant moment of frustration) and I got to see him at his very best, leading with confidence and extraordinary zen. We also witnessed some beautiful sunsets, woke up next to a few gorgeous mountain streams, and took in some truly breathtaking views. While we may have gained a few scrapes and bruises, and Rob may have had to carry around an inflatable donut for the next month, at least we endured it together. And, well, if that isn't a metaphor for marriage, I'm not sure what is. 

Nice.

Our last stop was Nice, and while we could have spent days and days soaking up all of its bright colors and sunshine, we were only there one night before flying out. We worked tirelessly to make the most of it by splashing around in the ocean for a bit before going on the hunt for some delicious food. As you can imagine, it was a very difficult 24 hours.

My favorite thing about Nice (and the Riviera as a whole) was the wonderful people-watching. The yachts were many, the bikini tops were few, and the tans, ON POINT. However, in walking through the streets of Old Town, the Italian influence was also really prominent. The antipasti flowed, the flower markets were abundant, and time seemed to move just a little slower. Families on vacation waited in long, leisurely lines for gelato, and couples, young and old alike, leaned against the colorful broadsides of stucco buildings, stealing kisses and drinking wine. It was the nicest, that Nice, and I'm so glad that we were able to say hello before we said goodbye. 

Provence.

From Vézelay, we headed south towards Provence, where we spent two nights in the small village of Gordes. While Gordes was really, really lovely, it also felt very much like a tourist-centric town filled with lots of (pretty) international vacationers. While this can make for great people watching, it also usually means less locals to meet and considerably higher prices. However, we were lucky enough to be in town on market day and we were pretty giddy to soak up some of that dreamy provincial goodness. The lavender was abundant, the olive oil was delicious, and the cheese and Rosé spilled forth from every corner. (See? Dreams really do come true.)

One of my favorite things about Provence was the light. It was as though a golden cloud was nestled throughout - seeping into the nooks and crannies and crevices- and, in turn, the entire earth seemed to glow from within. Time slowed down, the days felt longer, and we did our best to find the patios and chase the sun. It was the best kind of lesson in savoring the small joys. And savor we did.

Vézelay.

While we were sad to leave Normandy, we couldn't wait to head towards the tiny, hilltop village of Vézelay. Famous for the 11th century Basilica of St. Magdalene, Vézelay has long been a pilgrimage site, as legend states that the Basilica holds relics of Mary Magdalene. We spent only one night here, but it provided a few perfect surprises. During our short stay, we stumbled upon a small choir practicing in the Abbey courtyard (divine!), ate some delicious ice cream (twice!), and spent dinner next to a precious French family of three - a single mother and her two teenage sons. We chatted for a long time, laughing at the sons' stories of studying abroad in the U.S. and taking in their insightful perspective about all things political. They were really wonderful, and I loved having the opportunity to hear their story and dreams for the future.

And the final surprise? Well, it came early the next morning when we were abruptly pulled from sleep by the loudest church bells that have ever existed. Unbeknownst to us, our room sat directly beside the Basilica's bell tower, and so we awoke, very bright and very early, no alarm clock needed.

We get it Vézelay. You're fantastic.

Normandy.

From Paris, we hopped on a train to Caen. (Did you know that if you tell a lovely French women at a front desk that you want to go to Caen, she may hear your pronunciation and think that you want to go to Cannes and immediately work exasperatingly hard to book you a ticket? And then when finally understanding that you don't, in actuality, want to go Cannes, but instead to Caen, she may make fun of you with her eyes in the way that only a true Parisian woman can do? Hypothetically speaking, of course.) We weren't sure what to expect from our time in Normandy, but it truly was one of our very favorite stops. The landscape was lush and perfectly unkept, the villages were cozy, and the people were unbelievably kind.

We spent the first night in the charming village of Bayeux and headed to the D-Day Museum and Cemetery the following day. The museum was beautifully moving and an unexpected favorite of mine, and I don't think I'm being dramatic when I say that it shifted things just a bit for me. It was immensely special to observe Rob there as well, as his patriotism and love for military history runs deep, and I know how powerful it was for him to be able to put eyes on such an important part of history. After the museum and cemetery, we walked down to Omaha Beach. It was early in the afternoon and so there were only a few people there - a small family and their dog, and an older couple going for a swim- and it seemed the perfect way to honor the thousands of lives lost there. Those simple acts - a young boy and his dog, playing, and a retired couple sunbathing- well, those are the very simple joys and freedoms that those soldiers fought for. I'm so glad that, if even for a few hours, we were able to pay our respects to the many lost lives by being in the present, digging our toes in the sand, and enjoying the beautiful day we'd been given. 

From Omaha Beach, we drove into the country side of Lower Normandy and spent three days and nights at the absolutely perfect Hotel d'une ile. We explored several smaller villages in the surrounding area and I got to fulfill my life-long dream of going to a French flea market. We also tracked down some Brocantes (secondhand shops) and did our best to barter with the very little French we had picked up. In between the wandering and exploring, we drank some cider, ate lots of Camembert cheese, and I tried my first duck confit. All in all, Normandy was one of the true treasures of our trip. It somehow just felt like home.  

Paris.

I could fill pages and pages and it still wouldn't be enough to describe how wonderful and soul-nourishing our time in France was. Rob and I have become a little obnoxious about it, really, daydreaming about a life filled with soft cheese and baguettes, small artisan shops, jaunty scarves, and cafe-laden streets. Two weeks there basically makes us French, right? Right.

We know how fortunate we are to have been able to go on such a fantastic honeymoon, and looking back, it truly feels like a fuzzy, wonderful, red wine-fueled dream. Paris was our first stop, and we spent three long days hunting down the perfect beef bourguignon (we found it at Restaurant Joséphine Chez Dumonet) taking lots of photographs with every camera we own, and ducking into cafes and shops to escape the rain. We walked miles and miles and did our best to not look like the over-excited American tourists that we were. It was just the loveliest. I believe with my whole heart that what they say is true: Paris is always a good idea.

In the next couple of weeks, I'm hoping to post a few more photos from our stops in Normandy, Vézelay, Provence, and Nice. Each part of our adventure was unique in its own way and I can't wait to look back and remember all of our favorite moments.  Follow along if you'd like to see. 

the one in which I ask for audience participation.

Months have passed, so many months, since I've written here, and I feel a bit like an intruder, red-cheeked and unabashedly ashamed for letting so many lovely days go by without putting down a word.  Life has been happening in the most humorous, terrifying, and beautiful kinds of ways, and yet here I am, whole and fully assembled. 

A few nights ago, as I was lying in bed and just about to slip into sleep, Rob nudged me unexpectedly and sweetly whispered, hey, I miss reading your blog posts and the words you write... and I just thought you should know.

My response was, of course, something like YOU ARE A TERRIBLE LIAR AND WHY IS IT SO HOT AND I WISH YOU'D STOP STEALING ALL OF THE COVERS AND WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME WITH YOUR COLD, GROSS FEET.  

(To be fair, his feet were very VERY cold.) 

But the truth is, I miss this place too. Earlier this week, on a whim, I started reading through previous things I've written and declared on the internet, and I landed on this.  And this. And this.  And I was simultaneously embarrassed, shaken, grateful, proud, and encouraged. Because what is sharing our thoughts with others if the words and stories we tell don't ultimately bring us straight back to ourselves? 

Since I've last written here, life has sprinted and puttered and spun around at least twice. I got married. (No one is more surprised than me.) I've traveled to some incredibly beautiful places. I've created a special home with a husband who is much too nice for me but who inexplicably loves me anyhow. I've gone up a pant size and in utter desperation have begun taking indoor cycling classes. I've started eating more fish, which has been truly frightening. I've joined a book club and have listened to approximately one million podcasts. I've made new friends and have said goodbye to precious family members. I've laughed and cried, and peed my pants at least twice. Guys. A lot has happened.

I'd like to get back to telling these small stories in the hopes that one day I can look back and remember exactly what it felt like to be myself, on this day, in this space. I'd like to keep the written record going, just so I can't forget about the wonderful things that fill up the hours between the sprinting and the puttering and spinning. 

But you'd know what I'd also like? I'd like to find more of a community in this place. I'd like to ponder and respond to prompts and thoughts from you all, my friends and family (and the three other strangers who read this- bless you.) What would you like to hear about? What would you like to read about? What kinds of stories can we share with one another? What kind of wonderful information can we embarrass one another with? How can we keep each other accountable for continuing to seek, create, share, and evolve? Call me crazy, but wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all put pen to paper and let the record show that though our days were ordinary, they were filled with extraordinary thoughts and big, rowdy, raucous dreams? If that sounds like your kind of jam, can we jam together? Comment here. Leave me your links to your blogs or to your portfolios. Jot down your questions and tell me your stories. Words are so powerful, and I'd love to give, share, and trade more of them, especially with all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

almost summer

Last week, I got to spend an evening watching some of my favorite little ones yuck it up in a sun-soaked backyard. It really doesn't get much better. And while ALL of these sweet faces are moving away from me very soon (WHY???), I stole what moments I could, stalking them with a camera until the sun drained from the sky. It's my favorite time of the year, this almost summer season, and these kiddos reminded me that the best way to enjoy it is with (mostly) shoeless, wild abandon.

dirty work.

There are lots of different kinds of hard work. There is dirty, work-your-hands-to-the-bone kinds of work. There is emotional, in-your-gut-kinds of work and can’t-fall-asleep-at-night kinds of work. There is hard work that makes you feel full and hard work that makes you feel empty and sometimes the work that falls somewhere in between. And then there is the personal hard work - the stuff that wrings your brain and heart out, and forces you to ask the challenging questions, even though the answers might be scary. For each of us, this work looks different. It is measured differently, felt differently, and experienced differently. But it’s difficult and dirty, nonetheless.

The past few months, I’ve found myself engaged in an all-too familiar kind of grind. And so here is the truth of it: I can’t stop comparing every aspect of my life to every aspect of everyone else’s. The comparison game has been beating me down, days at a time, and I don’t like the way it feels. I know the routine, this act of comparison, and it’s one that can happen so quickly, it’s as though the laces are tied before I’ve even decided what shoes to put on for the race.

I hope I don’t sound too ungrateful here, but growing up and existing as a millennial is its own kind of terribly bizarre gift. Unlimited access to the world and its details is, at best, overwhelming, and at worst, terribly disheartening. I’m paralyzed, almost daily, by the amount of opportunities, opinions, options, paths, roads, careers, failures, and successes that I consume via photos, tweets, websites, and social media. I know so much about so many things and yet, I can’t seem to make a decision that I won’t talk myself out of five minutes later. I want to be about a million different things at any given moment (a writer! a world-traveler! an entrepreneur! a photographer! an artist! an activist! a farmer! a graphic designer! a chef! a hip, skinny-jean-wearing mom with great hair and sponsored Instagram posts!) and it can be difficult work to cultivate contentment in the wholeness of my present life. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, because I hear it, almost daily, from my peers. The millennial mantra can be hard to live by. With a little help from our parents, we’ve embraced the idea that we can be anything we want to be! and that rules were meant to be broken!, and I’ve witnessed it time and time again. I’ve seen my vagabond friends travel the world, make art, pay their bills, and look good doing it. I’ve observed acquaintances build start-ups, work from home, promote the hell out of themselves, and walk away with full pockets. I’ve seen others start businesses via social media and make more money in a month than I see all year. The point is, my generation bares witness to all of this, all of the time. And this isn’t the exception. This is often the rule. There is an innate expectation, however false, that can come with this kind of exposure. We want to believe (I want to believe) that life can be ALL of the things, all of the time. I don’t want to play by the rules of working hard. I want the time, freedom, and opportunity to live a life that is curated by myself alone, one lovely and intellectually stimulating moment at a time. I DESERVE THIS, I tell myself. Social media tells me so. Who wants ordinary when you can be extraordinary?

And then I give myself a proverbial punch in the face.

There is so much danger in the belief that hard work can be bypassed. While yes, we can all generally create our own set of rules to live by, we cannot outsmart, outwit, or outshine hard work. I cannot outsmart, outwit, or outshine hard work. If I’m lucky, I will get to choose the kind of hard work I want to do, but, in the end, it will still difficult and it will still be dirty.  The choice is the privilege, not work in and of itself.

Like many millennials, I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m fairly confident I won’t come to a full conclusion until I’m on the downside of 70. And that’s ok with me. It’s a luxury, to be sure, and one that I don’t take lightly. I live in a world where there a million and one ways to learn, grow, change, connect, and evolve. But here is what I know for sure:  Freedom takes work. Time takes work. Opportunity takes work. My vagabond, entrepreneur, creative, beautiful-people friends all have to put in the work, even if social media would have me believe otherwise. Nothing worth experiencing occurs in and of itself. Hard work makes the good stuff happen.

I’m tired of comparison. It steals joy, as they say, but I believe it also diminishes the value we place on the process and on the hard-fought journey that so many of our lives represent. I want to love, support, and encourage the imperfect lives that my friends and peers lead, and I want them to do the same for me. I want to strive to embrace the process, the dirty work, and the imperfections as much as I embrace the shiny and beautiful filtered Instagram photo. Because, as much as I love a good photograph, I love the simple, ordinary, hard-working story behind it even more. 

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm going to work on ceasing comparing my thighs, meals, clothes, trips, and days to yours, if you remind me every once in a while that you work hard to earn those European excursions and that you, too, in fact, wake up with pimples the size of Argentina on your forehead. In exchange, I'll try to stop bragging about how awesome my dog is and will work on posting more cellulite-heavy pics (yum!). I think sometimes it takes a lot of hard work and extraordinary courage to be perfectly ordinary. But for the sake of millennials everywhere, I'm willing to try.

walking it out.

Most days, Marlo and I take a short walk around the neighborhood. We head out just about the time the sun rests in that special slot in the sky- the place where the trees light up and the world seems to shimmer just a little more than it did before. I pull on a fleece, shield my eyes, and let that lovely, stubborn dog pull me down the street. She will pull and tug until she understands that our collaboration is far better (and less exhausting) than our struggle. (A metaphor for life, perhaps?) We generally walk one of three routes and, some days, I even let her choose which one it will be. Yesterday we walked my favorite, if only because it takes us past the most wonderfully lived-in home where jazz music is always playing and the neighborhood kids are always laughing. 

I’m a big believer in taking walks, and not just the put-on-your-running-tights-and-tennis-shoes-and-pretend-to-run kind of walks. I’m a believer in the daily stroll – the kind that allows you to intentionally explore the world around you.  I believe in taking the time to notice the slightest changes in the leaves or the cosmetic shifts happening to the home being restored down the street.  I believe in waving to the older gentleman who always walks his dog at the same time of day as you and stopping to wish him a very good evening. I believe in not having anywhere to be – at least for a little while - and in stopping to take a picture or two. You’d be surprised by how much life happens in the amount of time it takes to huff it a few blocks.

I grew up taking walks. My family went on frequent walks together. My friends and I would go on "hikes" and try to see what new things we could discover in the same old trees and same old sidewalk cracks that we were accustomed to. Depending on where my family lived, I often walked to school, and have distinct memories of formulating elaborate schemes and stories in my head in the amount of time it took for me to reach my destination.  In college, my friends and I would roam around campus for hours, often times in the middle of the night, just for the adventure of it. When I adopted Marlo, daily walks became part of the deal. And I loved it. I loved the excuse to stroll around the neighborhood in the early evening and let my imagination run wild.

Someone once told me, “If life begins to feel difficult, go take a walk. You’ll feel better by the time you’ve rounded the corner towards home.” The exercise is helpful, of course. But more than that, I believe it’s the vantage point.  These daily walks act as medicine, a meditation of sorts, and they allow me to create my own kind of therapeutic time-lapse. I’m only able to take in the world as slowly or quickly as my body (and Marlo) allows. There is more time for the details and even more space for my thoughts and creativity. I’m allowed to take note of all that has changed and all that has stayed the same, and rest in how much beauty resides in all that is ordinary.  For many of us, it takes a whole lot of effort to do that kind of simple work. But I’m willing to try. 

So, tonight, when I get home, I’ll put on my fleece and grab the leash. Marlo will get excited because she knows an adventure is about to be had.  She’ll pull me down the street and I’ll do my best to take note of how the sunlight hits the cement and how the smell of fresh laundry, most likely from the neighbors’ house, is still hanging heavy in the air. I’ll take a deep breath, push aside the stress from the day, and do the simple work of focusing on the present. I'll wave to the older gentleman, dodge the bicycle commuters, and enjoy the journey. And then we’ll probably take the long route, just because we can.  

 

 

vision.

I don’t often write about my work here in this space.  Besides passing references, I try to keep the scope of what I share thoughtful and non-invasive.  I want to be respectful of the population of students that I work with and certainly don’t want to paint them in any kind of light that isn’t true or encouraging. However, it seems that the longer I do the work that I do, the deeper its reach becomes. It’s difficult to not mention it here, because it has become so much of who I am. By default, it's bound to leak into this space, if only a little bit at a time.

I suppose the first thing I should tell you is this: inevitably, whenever I meet someone new and participate in the reciprocal exchange of niceties- name (Courtney), interests (cheese), social connections (I went to college with her cousin's ex-husband's new boyfriend), place of employment (school psychologist who works with blind and visually impaired students) – I always get a few follow-up questions or statements that usually sounds a little something like this:

“You work with blind kids? Geeeez. You win.”

Or: “Wow, what an interesting job. So, do just listen to blind kid’s problems all day?”

Or: “Wait. What does that even mean?”

Or, my personal favorite: “Whoa! So, do you speak sign language?”

I generally just smile and answer the questions as briefly as I can, because the truth is, it would take hours to truly explain what my role is in such a unique environment, and nobody has the time or attention span for that. But I get it. It's one of those jobs that just sounds different than most. And I suppose it is. But some days are really hard. And some days the to-do list feels too long to truly make a difference.  Often, I feel bogged down with paperwork. I wish, almost all of the time, that I had more hours in the day to do counseling with my students. I get frustrated with all of the rules and regulations that Special Education requires and often wish for simple, concrete procedures that would just STAY THE SAME ALREADY.

But then, sometimes, I feel as though I’m bursting at the seams with stories. I want to shout from the rooftops that I am basically the luckiest woman alive to get to work with such courageous, beautiful, challenging students. I’m continually amazed by the attitude and spirit of these kids.  The things they accomplish and navigate put me to shame.  While I struggle to get out of bed every morning, they are also struggling to get out of bed every morning, but are generally doing it with the BEST ATTITUDES EVER. While I’m praying to switch places with my dog just so I can sleep an extra hour, they are fully embracing who they are and who they want be. They are determined, almost all of the time, to be the best versions of themselves. They are tech savvy, fearless, and amazingly fashionable. They are committed to learning scary and daunting new things because they want the freedom to pursue their wildest dreams. I can’t even begin to tell you how life-giving it is to bear witness to such a thing. 

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live your life without the gift of sight? Take a moment and just imagine it. Imagine what it would be like to cook a meal, clean your desk, or go to the grocery store. Imagine the skills and tools you would need to simply get dressed in the morning. Imagine introducing yourself to new people, trusting them to help you rather than take advantage. Imagine learning a new neighborhood, a new city, a new job. Think about the challenges that would arise in even the simplest, everyday tasks. I believe most of us would not only lack sight, but also the vision needed to see beyond our physical limitations.

Even more, imagine what it would be like to be a TEENAGER and to be visually impaired. Imagine trying to navigate social situations and crushes and cliques and plans for your future. Imagine trying to learn how to study and take tests and apply for colleges. Imagine the courage it takes to go out and let the world see you try and learn and make mistakes. Imagine wanting to drive, and figuring out that you never will be able to do so. Imagine taking a sex education class as a blind or visually impaired teenager. No. Seriously. Imagine it. There would be SO MANY QUESTIONS, right? Now imagine having additional disabilities to consider – orthopedic impairment, auditory impairment, speech impairment, cognitive impairment, autism – as visual impairment generally has a very high co-morbidity rate with other physical and mental disabilities.  Do you have a good sense of what I am trying to convey? These, THESE, are the students that I get to spend time with every day. These are the funny, frustrating, smelly, lovely, courageous teenagers that I get to sit in meetings about, write reports for, design behavior plans for, and provide tissues for. These are the teenagers that I get to help discover who they want to be when they grow up.

I don’t want to romanticize things too much, because teenagers are still teenagers, regardless of the sum of their parts. Some days they make stupid choices. Some days they do hurtful things. Other days they say the wrong thing or don’t say the right thing or lie or cheat or frustrate me beyond words. But they are teenagers. And this is what they do.

Yes, I’m a school psychologist.  You picture Freud, but instead, the reality is hours of meetings, and hours of paperwork, and even more hours of navigating a special education system in order to ensure that all parties are happy – student, family, and school. With the time that’s left over, I sometimes get to sit with teachers and students and try to help solve the world’s problems. Sometimes, it's terrible. Sometimes, I laugh until my insides hurt. Other times, I feel helpless and awful and like the world’s worst adult. But whatever the season, I have the opportunity to sit down and learn from the tremendous staff and students that surround me. If I'm honest, there are moments where I'm still not sure how I ended up in such a ridiculously unique place. I didn't plan on it.  But I'm thankful for it, even when the days are rough. So, yeah, I guess what they say is true.

I work with blind kids. And I TOTALLY win.

 

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Yesterday, I came home from work, sat on my bed, and felt the room go whoosh around me. I think maybe it’s this time of year, when time seems to get sucked through a kind of continuum that forcibly makes the hours seem shorter and the to-do list appear longer than humanly possible. Or I suppose it could just be me. I’m working on my stress/anxiety/worry/catastrophizing management. Winter just doesn’t lend itself well to the part of my brain that craves sunshine after 5 pm. However, it does lend itself well to the part of my brain that likes to drink red wine after 5 pm (because what else do you do when the sun goes down?)

Marlo has been sick all week. I understand that having a sick dog is entirely different from having a sick child, but since a sick dog is all I’ve ever really known, it’s been enough to turn me into a pacing and slightly irritable mother (of sorts). What began as terrible hacking evolved into full-fledged kennel cough and the sound of Marlo’s dry-heaving does not the magical holiday soundtrack make.  She’s on the mend and will be perfectly fine but I have reason to believe that my ears will be bleeding for at least 4 to 6 weeks.

I tell you these things so you can understand the context in which I am sharing some pretty important information. You see, I'm not always a very lovely and patient person to be in a relationship with. Yet somehow, even with my incessant grumbling and penchant to seek wine for companionship, I managed to convince the world's most wonderful man that he should spend time with me. And I thought you should know that today is this wonderful man's birthday. Thirty-three years ago today, he was born and I think this a fact worth sharing/shouting/obnoxiously blogging about. While I’m probably a bit biased, I have to tell you that this guy has one of the most sincere hearts you will ever encounter. He is fiercely loyal, kind beyond measure, and a gift to me in ways that I am continually discovering. He has loved me wholly and consistently from the very beginning and has never wavered (even though he really, really should have because have you seen me hangry?) and he has done so with such faithfulness and integrity. He requires that I be the best version of myself and has no tolerance for gossip or unnecessary criticism. He is humble and honest and has annoyingly good hair. He is ridiculously patient, deceivingly creative, and has the metabolism of a 17-year-old boy. Also, he genuinely loves Marlo and helped me google her disturbing symptoms at 1:30 AM last weekend when my internet was refusing to cooperate. Both of these things are worthy of very shiny medals.

So, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m thinking my boyfriend is probably at least a little bit better than yours. Also? We already have the same last name (plus or minus that extra "L"), so there’s that.

Happy Birthday Rob. I hope you read this, turn nine shades of red, and then think about how much fun we are going to have celebrating your awesomeness today. Thanks for being exactly who you are. Thank you for allowing me to be exactly who I am. I'm so very glad you were born.