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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
SEP
12

Welcome to my Laboratory

What you're looking at is chicken. Vegan chicken, that is. It's a recipe I recently got from my sister-in-law that has become a regular staple for me. It requires ingredients like Vital Wheat Gluten and Nutritional Yeast (both of which I had previously never heard of), although what I can't get over is the way the recipe produces a dough...a dough that then gets steamed into a solid state and somehow becomes these, for lack of a better term, blobs. Honestly, when I'm making it I can't help but feel like I'm some kind of scientist in a laboratory, you know, just growing chicken blobs from dough. As you do.

I've oft lamented the fact that I can't really create anything with my hands. I don't know how to make stuff. Art, crafts, homemade gifts. I don't have any skills that translate into creating anything that anyone would want. Or consider particularly well done. Writing really is my only creative vehicle, and on most days, this is enough. But on other days, I yearn to CREATE something from nothing. So I get a weird enjoyment out of creating these chicken blobs.

I turned my home into a laboratory again this weekend by attempting my first-ever batch of homemade mosquito repellant. Mosquitos really aren't an issue here in Southern California, and in all time I've lived in my house, I haven't had a problem. Imagine my surprise when a sneaky (and greedy) lone mosquito proceeded to bite me 10 times over the course of a 30-minute window while I sat in the backyard reading. My reaction was swift and unyielding, in that I am TAKING BACK MY YARD. It's now full of citronella plants, and I crushed a bunch of leaves yesterday and spent hours brewing my homemade concoction. I won't say it smells great (it doesn't), but I did sit outside yesterday for an hour, surrounded by my plants and covered in my homemade goop, and no mosquito dared approach. Creation at work.

And finally, again in the spirit of creation, I'm brainstorming some cookie ideas (ingredients and flavors), because what laboratory could be more fun than a baking laboratory??!! I'd love to be good enough at making cookies that people seek them out. Not a shop, necessarily, but maybe a friend will ask me to make cookies for her kid's birthday party. So the creation will continue. I think it's such a natural part of life, to want to take things that exist and turn them into other, more desirable, helpful (or delicious!) things. Here's to creation, of all sizes and scales!

AUG
22

Virtues of the Novel

It's no secret that I'm a non-fiction girl. Memoir, specifically. I get annoyed by good, fascinating novels when I think about the fact that it's all made up and didn't actually happen. For me, it's much more satisfying to read about something that actually happened. More than that, something written by the person it happened to (as opposed to a biographer or historian). There's just no comparison to real life, and the fascinating, heartbreaking, and triumphant situations we get ourselves into.

That being said, in my regular line-up of exclusively memoirs, I usually read one novel per year. To change it up, really, and because there's usually some novel that enough people have recommended that I feel like I ought to read. This year's novel is A Gentleman in Moscow, which I swear I've been hearing about for years. It's been on my radar, and when my sweet Mom recently gifted me a copy, I felt I couldn't put it off any longer.

Here's the thing with novels that I always forget because I read them so infrequently. THEY ARE SO DECRIPTIVE. It's like a whole different world of lush language and description. This one in particular is filled to the brim (500 pages is VERY long for me) with descriptions of every single detail of the hotel where the story takes place. I forgot how all this description creates visuals of the setting and story in your mind, really without you even trying or actively envisioning it. It just happens. This is something you don't often get with memoir, in that much of the book is the author's thoughts, and the stories are much more succinct and measured. There simply isn't the opportunity to picture an entirely new setting in your mind and feel completely transported each time you open the book.

I still prefer memoir, and I probably always will, but there's certainly a place for the well-written, all-encompassing novel, and this one is a true gem.

AUG
05

This is My Jam

I recently acquired some fruit trees. The lemons and oranges are pretty straightforward, and the only issue I run into is that I can't really use them fast enough. I always wondered why people would bring in heaps of home-grown produce to the office with a "take what you want" sign, but now I know. Also, let's be real. Many of the things you can make with lemons require a ridiculous amount of sugar. It's like seeing how the sausage is made, but with lemonade. And you can only make so many pitchers of lemonade before you start asking yourself if you should really be drinking so much of it.

The apricots are another story entirely. For one thing, in my head I was confusing them with peaches. Or I was at least picturing peaches in my mind as I watched them grow from small green spheres to small peach spheres. "I just need to wait for them to get bigger," is what I thought every time looked out at the tree. Nevermind that they were the perfect color. Nevermind that the branches were already weighing heavy from the small spheres. Nevermind that they started falling OFF the tree. I thought they would get bigger, so I waited. Luckily I realized they were as big as they were going to get and perfectly (if a bit over) ripe in time to harvest the entire tree's worth.

Of course, what does one then do with an entire tree of apricots that pretty much need to be eaten immediately? Naturally, I turned to jam. Nevermind that I had never made jam of any kind. Nevermind that I had to ask the store clerk where to find the canning jars (wouldn't you assume baking??). Nevermind that I only bought about half the jars I ended up needing. Nevermind that I came very close to only putting in a fraction of the required sugar. In any case, the jam got made, and it's more delicious than someone with no experience should have been able to produce. Really. And it delights me that both the apricots and required lemon juice came from my own backyard.

I guess it's jut refreshing to be trying new things, even if those new things require "working" tree fertilizer into the soil, far enough out to cover the "drip line." (Cue Moira and David Rose trying to fold in cheese.) Here's to next year's harvest!

JUL
11

Thinking Woman

I love this little sculpture, that it's of a female and that she appears to be in thought. I've also enjoyed decorating my house with stacks of my favorite books--books being such a big part of what I myself think about. Whether writing them or reading them, one might argue the best thing about books is that they make you think, and usually about things outside your comfort zone, things you know nothing about, or things you never had a reason to even contemplate prior to reading about them. So I really couldn't think of a better spot for this little sculpture.

I confess I'm behind on my 2021 reading goal. This tends to happen when I'm more focused on writing a book, but even though I haven't been writing one in 2021 (the one I wrote in 2020 is being typeset as we speak!!), it still seems like reading hasn't been getting the time it deserves. And I feel badly whenever this is the case. It's so important--and enjoyable--that it's hard to accept that any excuse could really be good enough.

To prove that at least some reading has been happening, I'm currently reading Ethan Kross' Chatter and really enjoying it. Because as long as we're talking about thinking, I am a chronic overthinker. It keeps me up at night, the various stressful or unpleasant things I think and worry about, and while some people are better than others at internal self-talk and diffusing negative chatter, I'm not one of those people. If I feel overwhelmed, I'm going to think about being overwhelmed until I am even more overwhelmed. If I'm worried about how a co-worker is going to interpret an email I'm worried may come across with a tone I didn't intend, I'm going to think about all the ways it could blow up in my face. I try to think of myself as just interested in playing out all the scenarios, just wanting to be prepared for any number of outcomes, but there's really no sugar-coating the fact that I spend more time than I should worrying about insignificant things that usually blow over anyway. So, bottom line: it's a great book with actual suggestions for managing self-talk.

I also recently picked up (as in actually took it on a plane with me instead of my Kindle) an oldie but goodie, one of my absolute favorites, The Year of Magical Thinking. It's been years since I read it, but it's such an honest and refreshing look at grief. I love Didion's mentions of the memory vortices we get sucked into and the way irrational thoughts (such as being prepared in case a departed loved one comes back) can actually seem quite rational. It's hard to fathom the back to back losses she endured, but the rest of us are forever bettered by the books she wrote from those experiences.

So, I'm still reading, (however slowly), still anticipating the release of my new book in the fall, and newly experimenting with a topic that may become my next book. In short, I'm thinking more than ever. My little sculpture is in good company.

 

JUN
23

The Wall

I recently went through the experience of painting my first wall. Or, more accurately, I watched someone else paint the wall while I hovered in the background rather uselessly, offering to fetch any number of items—brushes, trays, rollers, snacks. I promise I did eventually do some of the painting myself, a task more satisfying than I would have thought, especially given how much prep work is required before you can even begin.

What amazed me about the wall was how much better it looked after we were done. And from just one measly coat of paint. The whole room was transformed, all the obnoxious nail holes and pencil lines gone, as if they’d never been there. Even though, technically, they were all still there. I don’t know, the whole thing just made me think about our own transformations, some of them superficial and really just band-aids to the problems we face (not necessarily good), and some of them completely genuine opportunities to begin again or try something new (almost certainly good).

The latter is the type of transformation I’m most interested in, the one I hope we’re all striving on some level to achieve. Some of these transformations are initiated by us, by our own actions, passions, and ambitions—or sometimes our desires to flee certain places or people who have ceased to be the assets to our lives that they once were. Other transformations are thrust upon us in ways we may not have chosen or wanted, and these offer their own opportunities to grow, adjust, and re-imagine what color, shade, or pattern might be the next path for us.

The comfort to me is in knowing that we’re still ourselves as we transform, all the layers and flaws and previous iterations still there, a perfect record of our past. It’s equally comforting that we can always revert back to these layers should timing or circumstances line up better for them in the future. So much about our lives is within our control—the things we choose to pursue, the ways we choose to spend our time, the people we align ourselves with. Even the jobs we have and cities we live in. The houses we buy. I fully acknowledge those things we cannot choose, and the heartbreak and frustration that often accompanies them. But in instances where transformation is within our grasp and feels warranted—or even essential—we can slap on a coat of something radiant and bright (or even just your basic swiss coffee white) and move forward, ever hopeful, ever determined, ever grateful.

MAY
31

The Return of Business Travel

My company apparently tracks our top travelers, a rolling report looking at the past year and ranking those who've logged the most trips. I'm a person who typically does travel for work, but not at a level that would ever normally earn a spot on this list. Amusing then, that I'm currently showing as the company's #1 top traveler because the business trip I just returned from was the first one that got approved since the pandemic shut everything down. It was just a one-hour flight to Phoenix, which makes this pretty hilarious, but I suppose it's also a strange sort of badge of honor, as if I'm helping to usher in a return to business normalcy.

The business trip was to an industry event, an event that had assured the wearing of masks, the requirement of health screenings, and the presence of sneeze guards on all booth tabletops. Features that were all completely rejected by the event attendees, which, combined with the relaxation of requirements by the CDC, resulted in an event that felt downright pre-pandemic. I kept asking myself if I was comfortable not wearing a mask (since in California we are still required to wear them everywhere we go) and the answer, of course, was that I wasn't. Not so much because I felt at risk of getting COVID, but because I hadn't been prepared to go cold turkey. I had underestimated how comforted I had grown to feel in a mask. It's a layer of protection that apparently did as much for me mentally as it did physically. Yet I joined my industry associates and shook hands and gave hugs and broke bread and did business, and despite the previously mentioned discomfort (should we be doing this???), I confess it felt refreshing to step, however tentatively, back into a world where people do such things.

Other things are moving forward as well, including cover options for my new book, out later this year. I'm a bit torn between an option with a familiar style a bit reminiscent of my most recent book, or one that has a completely different look and feel. This decision, too, feels nice. The kind of decision that wreaks of normal life. Of everyday pursuits. Of questions, answers, and individuals having more influence on the futures we are shaping together.

MAY
02

Behind Door #1

I've been in the market for a few bigger-than-normal-ticket items, and experiencing a variety of salespeople and tactics has reminded me not only what drives me crazy about an overaggressive close, but also how much variety there is in the circumstances of each customer. To some extent, salespeople must be prepared for those with any number of budgets, preferences, and requirements. Yet it astounds me how often they ignore these requirements, as if the benefits of the item should trump all else...like whether the customer can actually afford to buy it.

There's a story I'll never forget from my working life, an experience I had while working a tradeshow booth with one of our company executives. It was just me and her, and she was exponentially more classy (and wealthy) than I was. These facts don't usually come into play, in that they are there and exist, but there's no need to dwell on them or have them influence your day-to-day reality. But on this particular day at the show, she asked if I had put any bids on any items at the auction booth across the aisle from us. The auction funds would benefit underprivileged children, a worthy cause if ever there was one, yet as I perused the items, there was nothing within a price range I felt comfortable paying. When I shared with the executive that the items I wanted were outside of my price range, she looked confused and almost hurt. "But, it's for the children," she said. To which I wanted to say, "That doesn't change my budget," or remind her that raising my pay could certainly help my ability to contribute to such causes. Instead I'm pretty sure I said nothing, too stunned by the logic that a worthy cause should suddenly somehow generate money that I didn't have.

That's kind of how I felt this weekend with salespeople pushing the benefits of cutting edge technology, touting the per-day cost of something that would last a person many, many years. Isn't it WORTH this much per day, they would ask, to experience such comfort and luxury? To which I will say, yes, it IS worth it. But that doesn't mean I can afford it. This is all to say that there were probably several disappointed salespeople in town this weekend. And the takeaway isn't so much a Read the Room kind of thing (although it sort of is), but more just a reminder of how many different sets of circumstances there are, how many budgets, how many different requirements or preferences exist out there. Not just between different people or families, but also even within ourselves and our families, as our individual situations improve or fall apart or shift over time. Perhaps it's a comfort to know there's something (some couch, car, piece of jewelry, electronic device, musical instrument, or antique appliance) for everyone.

APR
17

On Not Working

I recently took a week off of work to stay home and do nothing. Well, I did sneak out to check out the Carlsbad Flower Fields (where I snagged the blooms pictured above). So I didn't entirely stay home. And I did go through my new manuscript 4 times to re-work some paragraphs and transitions after getting it back from my editor. So I didn't entirely do nothing. But I honestly couldn't remember a time where I'd ever done that before...took a week off work and didn't actually go anywhere.

I highly recommend it.

The thing about not working but getting paid for it is that there is literally nothing better. I mean, who wouldn't love to not have to work? But most of us have to provide for ourselves. It's one of the complaints I bring up in this new book...the frustration around people who reference working girls as "career women," as if there is any other type of woman for us to be.

And speaking of this new book, one of the last edits I made before turning it into my editor was a revision to the section where I talk about the notion of being a workaholic. I am decidedly NOT one, even though I draw satisfaction from the work I do, so I try and limit work to 8 hours a day as much as possible. In making the point that I like working, just not all the time, there's a line in the book where I had said, "I want to work, just not for more than 8 hours a day." Yet the line didn't sit quite right. Because I wish I didn't have to work. I wish I could have more weeks like the one I just had, sitting in my house editing a manuscript with an occasional outing to appreciate the beauty of nature.

"I want to work--and by that I mean I most definitely don't want to work..." is the beginning of how I ended up amending the sentence to make it more accurate. It's sitting better with me now, having admitted that I wish I didn't have to work at all. Alas, it's our lot. So we'll have to settle for quick trips to the flower fields of life whenever we can get away. My suggestion is to take those trips whenever you can get them, to carve specific time out just for this, and to not feel guilty about a few days away from the office. It will all be there when you get back, just as you left it. The flowers, on the other hand, are fleeting. So go. See them. Then come back and make any revisions you need to.

MAR
28

Enjoying the View

Considering I've lived just a few blocks from the ocean for the past several years, it is perhaps a bit disgraceful that I've spent so little time at the beach. It's safe to say the novelty wore off relatively quickly, and equally quickly my life became full with new friends and pursuits that cut into my beach time. (I also write books. Have I mentioned that?) I can think of other reasons, too. My fair skin that burns easily, the incessant and annoying tourists that crowd this little beach town between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and, of course, COVID-19. But it's there, the ocean. And every time I see it, I have to remind myself that it's real. That I live here.

Another rather disgraceful fact about living here is that I don't leave my little beach town all that often. I'm not really talking about vacations or work trips, which are a regular part of my life. But when I'm in town, I rarely hop over to the next town, or the next after that, or to any number of the seaside communities that surround me. My life is here, my office is here, and I just don't find myself exploring very much, certainly not as much as I used to. You can blame part of this on COVID-19 as well, but you can also blame part (read: most) of it on me just being lazy. It's simply easier to stay put. (Plus, traffic. You cannot underestimate it.)

And so I've been trying to explore a bit more lately, putting a few miles on my car and seeing corners of my community that are new to me. It probably seems simple to you, but especially after a year of largely staying at home due to the pandemic, it can be a strangely powerful feeling to be driving down a road and realize that you've never been there before. (Even more strange if the road is, hypothetically, only a few miles from your house.) Last weekend I visited a city a few hours north and spent some time appreciating the same ocean, just on a different stretch of shoreline, and it filled me with a rather unique sense of happiness. One that I think stems from knowing there is so much world left for us to explore, and that most of the time we don't have to go very far to find it.

MAR
04

On Perspective

This picture was taken in Palm Springs in the middle of a windstorm that came out of nowhere, which was weird and also weirdly liberating. I had just gotten my hair cut and felt like it captured me as I don't usually see myself. Which is to say that everything about it, even the angle, seemed to offer a different perspective.

How we ultimately feel about various circumstances in our lives usually comes down to our perspectives. Perspectives are made up of our history of experiences, yes, the things we've been exposed to (or not), the things we've learned (or not), the things we've overcome (or not). But perspectives are also made up of aspects of our own personalities, those things that are baked in, so to speak, parts of our DNA, our characters, our temperaments, that are unique to us. I've been thinking about perspectives in a rather pandemic-specific light lately, particularly after my department at work had a recent team meeting where we discussed the pros and cons of working in the office and working at home and began to try and brainstorm what kind of hybrid model might work best for us once we are given the clear to come back.

What struck me about this meeting was how varied people's thoughts on the subject are. You have some (and I'm in this camp) who rather enjoy working from home, and some who say they have hated it and never want to do it again. You have some who feel they are more productive at home, and some who feel they get more done in the office. There was no single solution that seemed it would be optimal for everyone going forward, and it's largely, again, because of our own perspectives and circumstances. Those who have quiet, empty homes are in different situations than those working in closets to avoid their noisy children. Those who have long commutes are in different situations than those with short ones. Those who tend to rely more on other departments are in different situations than those who can for the most part do their work independently. And then there's the personality aspect, the fact that not everyone values the flexibility of cooking scrambled eggs during a conference call, going for a run at lunch, and not having to be showered and in makeup and high heels and a non-elastic waistband by 7:30 in the morning as much as I do. Which is to say that I value these things so much that it's almost worth things staying bad/closed. 

I hope what does come out of this is a true hybrid model that prioritizes flexibility and doesn't forget how effective we've been at working remotely for an entire year. I hope companies, especially conservative ones like mine, remember this efficacy and consider our individual perspectives, which vary, and create a scenario where everyone can thrive. And I hope my pencil skirts still fit when it's time to put away the elastic waistbands. 

FEB
10

Modern Love

Love is such a mess. Seriously. In some ways I've struggled over the years with this realization, and in other ways I've felt relief over it. See, I used to think that love should be easy. That if it weren't, then the couple shouldn't be together. I mean, you shouldn't have to work at something as blissful as love, right? Certainly not work hard. I've had my fair share (like, one) of relationships that are what I would consider blissful, in that we seemed to always be on the same page, never fight, and not find ourselves frequently rehashing similar disagreements. I think there are definitely couples out there who function at this level, a level that is (seemingly) more effortless than the rest of us. I'm happy for these people. I'm just not one of them.

Many of my relationships have involved more challenging situations, keeping in mind that when I say challenging, I'm referring only to differences, both in personality and backgrounds. I'm a person who has never been looking for the easiest option when it comes to relationships, so these differences are not automatically what I would consider to be dealbreakers. But they take work, and I don't think there's any shame in admitting that. I wish more people would talk about it. That relationships are hard. And why shouldn't they be? Spending a shit-ton of time with the same person, one who comes at things from a completely different lens, values and prioritizes differently than you, and can't read your mind? How is that not going to take work? When a friend recently posted about her milestone wedding anniversary by saying that in addition to there being no one she has more fun with, more connection to, or more love for, there is also no one who makes her more frustrated, no one she disagrees with more, and no one else she gets so mad at, I felt like it was one of the most beautiful tributes I'd ever read. That, my friends, is love.

I think what I've found refreshing is the mutual desire to persevere through these differences, to even embrace and celebrate them. Besides, at least for me (a person who FEELS things deeply and in fact rather enjoys the sometimes dramatic travails of life if for no other reason than they trigger growth and force one to acknowledge her own aliveness), I value our ability to experience emotional extremes as so incredibly human. What other species can feel and process to such extremes and in such detail, or evaluate and then make decisions from these feelings in the same complex ways that we do? It's rather quite glorious. 

I've recently read all the Modern Love books (collections of the Modern Love essays from the New York Times), and, along with the collections of Moth stories, they were just about my favorite things I've ever read. They, the stories, are almost all unbelievably messy, exploring aspects of love from the non-traditional to the tragic to the sweet to the devastating to the, yes, I'll say it, hard. Is it always worth it? Does it always work out? But does it even have to? I'm a fan regardless, of the journeys, the struggles, the work, the rewards, the reminders that we are never so fortunate than when we have love.

JAN
23

Character Development...Meaning my Own

Because my cat likes to remind me that she doesn't get nearly enough face time on this blog. And because this is literally where she positions herself every time I get out my laptop to edit. Which I'm doing a lot lately as I prep my new manuscript. I thought I pretty much had it the way I wanted it but recently decided to make some changes to the final chapters that potentially affect the overall structure of the storyline. So now I'm needing to read through the whole thing several more times to figure out if it works. Which is all to say that my cat has really been having to fight with my computer for my attention. Not that she has anything to complain about. COVID has been the best year of her life. (I'm sure your pets would agree.)

I've softened somewhat over my years as a writer. I didn't think too much in the beginning about people's feelings, or about adjusting language (or removing certain stories altogether) based on how others might feel to read about themselves or my opinions and perceptions of them. Partly because I was never out to get anyone, so nothing I said really seemed that bad, and partly because telling the story I wanted to tell and being honest about my experiences was always the most important thing. Not to say that it still isn't, but I've had a bit of a change of heart when it comes to sharing certain things. And there have been several changes I've made in my last few manuscripts that I probably wouldn't have made ten years ago. Or even five. 

It becomes quite a balancing act then, to make sure I'm still preserving the intent of a certain storyline, as well as the tone by which I mean to convey it, while also minimizing the potential for negative reactions from those being (anonymously) mentioned. Don't get me wrong...this doesn't mean this new manuscript won't still ruffle some feathers if the right people give it a read (which, for the record, almost never happens with me being such a no-name author), all I'm saying is that I think about it more now. And I am, on occasion, willing to change or edit or cut if I can't quite bring myself to say something in particular. Like I said, I've softened ever so slightly. And I think it's important, at least it has been for me as I grow and develop as a person on this planet. Of course, none of this means anything to my cat, who is at this very moment staring at me and wondering when I'll stop typing and pet her. 

JAN
03

The Things You Keep

You're looking at the activity that perhaps took the largest percentage of my childhood: tying lanyards. Or, lanyard "lacing," as I so alliteratively called it on the small slips of paper with my name and phone number that I printed en masse to hand out to my friends. I also printed order forms, with blank spaces for things like the customer's name and the agreed upon price, as well as the selected colors and styles of pattern. So much about it appealed to me, in that it was something creative, something I could make with my hands, and something I could ultimately sell. A business, if you will. Complete with beads and hooks and a whole host of colored string options, it was all housed in a red, compartment-filled tin box.

I wouldn't necessarily have been able to recall how seriously I took my craft had it not been for the chance I had over Christmas to go through all the boxes of stuff I saved from my childhood. The boxes have been sitting in my parents' garage for decades, things from elementary school all the way up to through college. These are things like school papers, yearbooks, clothes, stuffed animals, collectible frogs from the years when I had a thing for collectible frogs, college textbooks, random vintage mugs picked up at thrift stores, etc. My main objective was to purge, to go through the boxes and decide what I wanted to keep vs. throw/give away, and what struck me as I sorted through everything was how delightful it was to be reminded of all these things that had once been important to me. The things I saved, the things I collected, the things I couldn't quite bring myself to part with. It's the memories they brought, of course, but also just the reminder of other phases of life. Things I had perhaps forgotten. Like how damn obsessed I was with those lanyards.

Is it sad that I ended up throwing or giving away probably 95% of everything in the boxes, including the lanyards? I think the answer you're looking for is yes. It's sad. It feels like my whole life just gone, with no way to now remember things like what my teachers said in the letters of recommendation they wrote for my scholarship applications or the songs my sister played at her violin recital or the note my co-star wrote on my program on the closing night of our high school performance of The Music Man. There's no way to remember them now, or to remind myself of them say ten, twenty, or thirty years from now when going through all the boxes again might have provided the same kind of delight. But the other side of coin, and one that cannot be ignored, is that I hadn't needed or really thought about anything in those boxes for, in most cases, decades. So what good was it doing me to have them sitting there, taking up space and collecting dust? What advantage would they serve at some future point in my life? It's this lens I used when considering each item, making it surprisingly easy to get rid of almost everything. It reminded me of moving to New York City several years ago, how I'd had to get rid of about 90% of what I owned in order to move to a tiny studio apartment. It was a similar decision process, in that only my favorite and most-used things were kept. I had to keep that filter in play or else I would get sad over parting with so much.

And so I'm focusing on the fact that the things I donated will hopefully find second, more useful lives with other people and families. I'm focusing on the memory of having gone through the boxes. After all, when I mentioned to the BF on the way back to the airport that I always pictured going through those boxes someday and them making me happy, he responded with, "And you got that. You got it today." It's sooner than I planned I guess, but he's right. I got that, and if happiness was the goal, then the whole endeavor was a complete success.

DEC
19

December is for Cookies

It's simply a fact that National Cookie Day hits us each December, giving a perfect opportunity to celebrate one of most delicious and fun types of treats. Once for National Cookie Day, I brought in a bunch of homemade sugar cookies of various sizes along with several frosting colors and sprinkles options and set them up in the middle of the department. You know, back when we could do things like gather in groups...and go to work. It made for one of the most enchanting work days I've ever had. There does seem to be something about cookies that makes people smile, and, perhaps, think about their childhoods. The ones pictured here are Swig copycats, my choice for this year's National Cookie Day. 

Cookies also remind me of my favorite weekend of the year, also in December, when a large group of family gathers to go caroling through town while delivering plates of cookies to each house. I mean, this is way more information than you ever needed about my holiday traditions, but we each bring various cookies to contribute to the plates, and then combine them into the final offerings, usually combinations of cookies, fudge, and chocolate truffles. There's always something satisfying about it, seeing what everyone brings and arranging the plates with the variety of goodies. Then something a little bit sad about watching the plates disappear throughout the night as we visit houses, knowing the caroling will be over when we run out of cookies. The fact that this caroling weekend isn't evening happening this year because of safety precautions amidst the pandemic is more than just a little bit sad. It is actually quite devastating. Which is why I'll probably be eating cookies tonight while we sing carols together over a Zoom call, our attempt at a virtual caroling event and the only chance to see many relatives this holiday season. 

I'll try not to eat too many cookies over my Christmas vacation, a time I need to devote to the final read-throughs of my new manuscript. It's a manuscript I'm handing in come January, and one that has caused me a fair amount of stress in recent weeks over whether or not to leave in certain details. It's a decision that's mine alone to make, and I'm sure you'll agree that any decision is easier to face with cookies. Make mine a whole plate, please. Merry Christmas!!

NOV
29

Give Thanks

In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I participated in the #givethanks challenge, the goal of which was to flood social media with a wave of gratitude. In many ways, it's harder to be grateful these days, especially now that we're into the holiday season and so many people's plans (mine included) to see family are having to be cancelled. I'm close with my family, and it's quite devastating for me to not be experiencing the traditions that have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. Plus, this all just sucks. All the staying home and lack of travel and events and activities, all the businesses that are closed (some even permanently), all the families affected by those who have lost their lives.

That said, there are always so many more things to be grateful for than to complain about, and I really enjoyed having a week to really think about those things. Everything from toilets and washers and dryers to family and friends to the body's ability to heal itself. Or how about the opportunity this year has given us to check in with our families more often, to spend more time with our pets, to become better cooks or bakers (or runners or gardeners). For me personally, I'm grateful for my job and the opportunity to have employment during this time, for the opportunity to have become educated, for a strong support circle including friends, family, and a kind and service-minded church community. 

And even though this one isn't as significant or important in the overall scheme of things, I thought a lot during the week about how grateful I am for books. I'm grateful that there are so many to choose from, and that there are writers who have such beautiful and inspiring ways of telling the stories of their lives. I tend to stick to non-fiction, and I love hearing stories--both beautiful and tragic--of real people who are experiencing aspects of real life, whether positive or negative. I'm grateful that I'm a good reader, in that I can read fast and (mostly) comprehend everything. I know reading is a struggle for some, and others never got the chance to learn to read at all. Which makes me even more grateful that it's something I can do and enjoy on a daily basis. 

I know the Thanksgiving season is now over, but if you're looking for a way to immediately feel better about yourself or your circumstances, take the #givethanks challenge yourself and post daily for a week about things you're grateful. Or simply make a list and refer to it often. It's a fact that people who list the things they are grateful are happier, and I think we can all use more happy, this year and always.

NOV
12

When You Want Shortbread

When I went to Scotland a few years ago, I had this little shortbread shop on my list of places to go while in Edinburgh. It's certainly not what I would call a tourist destination, and in a city full of museums and castles (and Arthur's Seat, for crying out loud), it may seem strange that this was such a must-see. It would seem less strange if you knew how much I love shortbread--I just have to sort of ignore the fact that it's pretty much straight butter--but still, one might say an odd choice. I did those other things too, the museums and castles and even Arthur's Seat, but perhaps my favorite moment of the entire trip, at least the one I kept trying to re-create as I continued exploring the handful of Scottish cities I'd chosen to visit, was when I opened the door to Pinnies & Poppy Seeds Artisan Shortbread Shop and stepped inside. To this day, and for the rest of my life, I will never have smelled anything so delicious. 

I was late to the game when it comes to international travel, something I didn't start doing until later than most, but that I was able to do consistently in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. My goal was to keep the trend going and take one big, foreign trip every year, a plan that was of course foiled by this blasted pandemic. While I want to make clear that the most tragic aspect of COVID-19 is the lives that have been lost and the grief and suffering endured by those who have felt those losses most dearly, for those of us fortunate enough to only be dealing with the side effects of quarantine and lock-down, one of the saddest things I've witnessed is a general abandonment of our various shortbreads. We all have those things and places that speak to us, that compel us to try, to visit, to see, to achieve. It's not just that the pandemic can make a person feel like these things are no longer attainable, it's that they are in many cases actually no longer attainable. Worse, it can make a person feel foolish for even thinking such a pursuit was realistic in the first place. I have listened to the tears of friends and family who worry their windows have closed, and, in some cases, don't have it in them to try again. To the world I say, is there to be no more shortbread???

My own opinion on the matter is that shortbread is not over. It may be changed or different. It will certainly be delayed. But it is not gone. On good days, you can even convince me that my quest to visit the shortbread store would have been no less noble had I arrived to find the door locked, the store closed. On bad days, such a thought breaks my little angel cake heart, but let's focus on the good days. Let's remember that things will get better and that if we had the courage and gumption to pursue a thing once, surely we can summon the courage and gumption to pursue it again. Or even again after that. And for those whose windows truly have closed with this pandemic, do not for one second think yourself foolish for trying. Trying already sets you apart from those who assumed it impossible from the start. The effort is success already, see?

This is not to say that I'm immune to the pandemic blues, because they damn near paralyze me sometimes. I found myself looking up the Pinnies & Poppy Seeds website today just to cheer myself up, only to find that they have had to close their store. A reminder if ever there was one of all the dashed dreams, ruined fortunes, and overall melancholy that has seemingly enveloped the world. I'm glad I have the memory, is something I suppose I could tell myself. The memory not just of that initial inhale inside the door, but also of selecting the flavors I wanted to buy, of watching my selections be placed in a small box and tied with string, of schlepping the box around a beautiful new country, and of curling up in a different hotel room each night with a cup of steaming tea and a piece of shortbread. Yes, I'm glad I have the memories, but if you want to know a secret, without the shortbread store, I'm fairly certain the trip would have been just as amazing. I know that's hard to believe when all you want is shortbread, but in times like these, let's do our best to re-imagine what shortbread can be. 

 

OCT
24

Life Without Schitt's Creek

This may be the first time I've finished a series and immediately considered just starting it all over again. Because it's just a little too painful to consider that there won't be any more Schitt's Creek to watch. And in a time where all the world is watching WAY MORE TV than ever before thanks to, well, a lack of other choices, I've certainly discovered some gems. Breaking Bad, The Good Place, and others have proved to be gripping, innovative, and delightfully endearing. Yet no show has moved or entertained me more than this one. In trying to pinpoint why that is (these are the types of things that writers, particularly writers in a pandemic, are wont to do), here are the top three reasons.

The Humor. One could argue it may not be EVERYONE'S kind of humor, and yet I can't imagine getting along with any person who doesn't find it funny. And it's a clever, understated humor, made even better by the lack of audience and the speed and subtlety with which it comes at you. It's a kind of humor not based on people telling jokes or saying funny things, but more about the actual situations the characters get into. And they get into a lot, considering the Rose family is thrust into this "normal" life having never before experienced anything like it. Their reactions, to pretty much everything (and David's facial expressions), are priceless. And Moira filming that winery commercial? Tears. From laughter. 

The characters are so comfortable being themselves but are also willing to change and grow. Moira herself is a bit of a freak show, but she's so unapologetic about it. David, too, beats to his own drum (those outfits!!), but it's just not a thing. It's never really talked about nor does it need acknowledging, because it just is. And the audience gets that and embraces it. I wish I saw more of that, both in myself and pretty much everyone I know, this ability to simply be ourselves. Because who else is there for us to be, anyway? All the characters from the town are equally themselves, and though a bit odd for it, they still shine bright for doing what they know and for supporting each other and the transplant Rose family. All that said, you still see so much growth from the characters as they learn things about themselves, as they push past struggles and limitations, as they find purpose. Stevie's storyline was particularly compelling to me, her quest to find out not just what she wanted to do with her life, but also her recognition of the need to push her own limits. Her Cabaret performance was one of my favorite moments in the entire series. That "Maybe This Time" number? Tears. From inspiration.

The positive family relationships. It takes some time to get there, of course, but at the end of the day, what I loved most about this show was that it was about a family coming together and growing closer. Not really because they chose to, and I get that, but a bi-product of all that time living together in the Rosebud Motel was that they rediscovered what they had in each other. One of my biggest frustrations with TV shows that depict family life is that the families are so rarely portrayed as having positive relationships. There's so much fighting and bickering, so many jokes about marriage being sucky, parents not making an effort with their kids, kids taking advantage of their parents. Not to say those things don't happen even in the best of families, but there were so many sweet storylines in this show that depicted this family--with already-grown children, I might add--genuinely enjoying and wanting the best for each other. To the point that when Alexis points out as the show comes to a close that she's really going to miss being together, being able to pop over and just see her family, it feels like an actual ache in your heart. Tears. From sadness over there being no more.

 

OCT
03

Vintage October

Somehow I managed to go the entire month of September without blogging, so I'll just catch you up by saying it included a resort getaway in 120 degree weather, an attempt at golfing, an expansion of my super amazing herb garden (pesto on the menu this week!), an almost full return to my pre-injury running distance, and, of course, about a million read-throughs of the new manuscript. And by a million I mean like 4. But still. It does become rather easy to become so fatigued with your own writing that you're pretty convinced that it's terrible.

Editing really is an interesting process. I find as I get older and write more books that it does get easier to cut things out if they don't need to be there or if they make the story worse. Certain stories I've fought for in the past, sure they were good enough to include, or maybe it's just I really wanted to tell them, whether or not they fit. Certain stories it took my editor recommending I scrap them for me to realize that them fitting is more important than how attached to them I am. Sort of like the time I moved to New York and had to get rid of almost all of my possessions, in that once you make up your mind that only the best most favorite things can be kept, it becomes relatively easy to part with everything else. If I've learned anything about life, it's how little you actually need.

And now it's October, and for the first time (thanks to my sister), I put up Halloween decorations! I've got a great costume in the works and some pumpkin spice muffins ready to roll as soon as this California heat dies down a bit and I can use my sorry excuse for an oven without fraculating the entire house. Fall does make me pine for New York, and for Cleveland before it. Fall is just the best, and sometimes it seems like it would even be worth putting up with snow again for. (I know, I sound crazy.) But really, there's nothing like fall in Ohio, if you can just get past all the Ohio State crap in people's yards. I hope that however you're celebrating fall and Halloween this month, that you take a moment to reflect on simpler times and years. This picture was a nice reminder of such a time for me. There have been and will be better times for all of us, and at the very least, there will be another of my books to read in 2021! 

AUG
30

Re-arranging

Sometimes it's hard to know whether you like something so much because you get used to it the way it is or because it's actually good. It's a quandary I find myself in after finishing a manuscript, because there's usually an initial order in which I write and organize my stories. And I do get used to them being in this order, to the point that it can be hard for me to tell if they would be better if I changed some of them up, switch their orders, etc. Or more specifically, it's hard for me to actually move them, even if I do think they would be better in a different chapter.

Most of my books I don't write in order. I simply pick a story that sounds good to me in that moment and write it. Then I pick another one. I don't really think about order or sequence until all the stories are written. This is, I believe, the first time I've ever written a book in the actual chronological order in which it will appear in the book. As such, when I laid out all the stories (with this super sophisticated process of writing their key words on pieces of cut up printer paper), I didn't find as many things to move around, because they were pretty much where I wanted them to be. I only moved two stories after laying this all out, and, if I'm being honest, I've already moved both of them back to where they were. Again, it's like, is this just because I'm used to it that way or because it really is better? 

There are two additional stories that I feel *could* potentially be moved somewhere else, but I can't find anywhere that I feel their placement would be better than where it is now. So I'm inclined to leave them where they are. Which would make this the first time that I really did just write a book from start to finish in exactly the order in which everything will read in the final version. Something about that feels...cool? Neat? Interesting? Just me? OK.

I've probably mentioned that this is a book about work, and it's also the first time that I've finished a book and then had to write an epilogue because events happened that sort of affected the ending. Then more events happened and I had to edit the epilogue. Seriously, it's been just about the weirdest couple of weeks at work that I've ever had. Talk about re-arranging! Who knows what the ending will be by the time this thing actually comes out?? Stick around and see...hopefully summer/fall of 2021.

AUG
04

When you want a Mint Julep

It wasn't just that, though. It's not that I even wanted a mint julep. I wanted a Disneyland mint julep--the super sweet, non-alcoholic beverage purchased in New Orleans Square and accompanied by a bag of warm beignets. One could argue that the mint julep really had nothing to do with it, that really I just wanted to go to Disneyland. Or, more to the point, I want a world in which we can go to Disneyland, and anytime we want. It's an escape that I count on regularly, and I know it's a first world problem, but I miss it.

I've actually attempted multiple copycat Disneyland treat recipes while in quarantine, and what they all have in common, including the mint juleps, is that they taste nothing like the real thing. This could, of course, just be a product of my kitchen skills (when the BF recently told me a meal I had cooked was in his top 5 of things that I make and I asked him what else is on the list, he couldn't think of anything), it's probably because nothing short of being there is going to taste at all like the real thing. And there are so many real things, beyond just Disneyland, that I miss terribly. 

I do feel the need to point out that all the mint used to make my mint juleps was grown from my very own herb garden, something I doubt I would have attempted outside of quarantine. And I feared my gardening skills were akin to my kitchen skills when my first attempt yielded nothing but a single tiny sprig of cilantro--a sprig that was eaten by a bird just when it had begun to look promising. My second attempt has flourished, and I'm taking a rather unusual amount of pride in harvesting my own basil to make homemade pesto (which, yes, is actually something I have now done) and snipping cilantro to put in my soups. 

I also used quarantine to start running for the first time in my life. As in I have never been a runner. Ever. It looks awful to me and always has, yet I'm such a sucker for the idea of working toward and finishing a race. As surely the only person on earth who cried at the end of Brittany Runs a Marathon, I figured it was worth a shot. (Running, that is.) And although every run confirms to me that it doesn't just look awful, it IS awful, there is satisfaction in doing something that is hard, something that is new, and something that can be improved upon over time. I was surprised in the progress I made in just 6 weeks, and even more surprised still that 6 weeks is all it took to develop a debilitating case of pes anserine tendonitis. So it may take another 6 weeks before I can so much as take a walk, but what, really, could I have done? Besides maybe learn that I am incredibly over-pronated and gotten the appropriate amount of stability before beginning a running regimen. But that's neither here nor there.

In short, I'm finding small joys in new areas, and on most days, that feels like a win. I've also been savoring the experience of finishing my new manuscript. When last I wrote, I claimed I was really going to slow down, so as to more effectively savor the writing process. Right. I totally finished it. More on that later. For now, it's time to water the herbs and ice my knee. Just another day in quarantine.