I’ve learned that I’m more selfish than previously assumed, and that I’m teetering dangerously close to cranky old woman in compression socks status.
I’ve learned that categorically, Ramen is overrated, even if the entire world is trying to convince me otherwise.
I’ve learned that I can do hard things, even when I don’t want to.
I’ve also learned that hard things aren’t always that hard. Sometimes they are just big or scary or tedious. And sometimes they are only hard because that’s the name I’ve given them.
I’ve learned that living in the present, while easy in concept, is remarkably difficult in the moment, but that sometimes chewing gum helps.
I’ve learned that being married can be incredibly difficult. (And in conclusion, I take back every judgmental comment I’ve ever made from the outside of a marriage relationship looking in.)
I’ve learned that hormonal changes are very real and that the female body is a complicated, terrifying, and beautiful thing to be a part of.
I’ve learned that the way I talk to myself truly does matter.
I’ve learned that I’m officially too old to stand at shows for longer than approximately one hour, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise.
I’ve learned that I need specific moments of silence in my routine. Without it, I feel flushed with the weight of life in ways that can become unhealthy and unhelpful.
I’ve learned that I’m best when I have consistent, kind, loving community.
I’ve learned that I can, in fact, officiate a wedding, and that at the end of said wedding, my dear friends can and actually will be wedded. THE POWER.
I’ve learned that I don’t like Chardonnay.
I’ve learned that I still don’t like ketchup.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to change my mind.
I’ve learned that being married is one of the kindest gifts that I’ve been given, if only because it’s shown me what it means to love and be loved unconditionally.
I’ve learned that it is, in fact, possible to miss one’s flight with a two hour layover. But only if a glass of wine is involved.
I’ve learned that saying something is going to happen isn’t enough. Interestingly, you actually have to do the said thing.
I’ve learned that I’m still really terrible at making decisions about where I want to eat dinner.
I’ve learned sweeping up dog hair will be the way in which I will measure my hours until I die. The end.
I’ve learned that I’m still really terrible at going to church.
I’ve learned that sometimes going to bed angry is exactly the right course of action because with the morning also comes something called perspective.
I’ve learned that I maybe do actually like Taylor Swift? (That Lover album really got me, guys.)
I’ve learned that traveling to see friends is always worth the price of admission.
I’ve learned that inertia is important. If I can take one step in the right direction, the rest of me usually follows.
I’ve learned that excessively hot weather for longer than four months makes me want to lash out and kick shins.
I’ve learned to treat house plants like pets — routine feeding and watering is the key to their joy.
I’ve learned that I’m a sucker for any culinary competition reality show. The more dramatic, the better.
I’ve learned that beauty truly does lie in the mundane, and that even if I can’t see it specifically, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
I’ve learned that being a fan of college football continues to be a thrilling and frustrating effort.
I’ve learned that making the bed first thing in the morning helps me to feel approximately 67% better about the rest of my day.
I’ve learned that I’m an Enneagram 4 but also maybe an Enneagram 9 and so like most people, I am nothing and everything, all at the same time. (Which, in turn, feels like a very Enneagram 4 thing to say?)
I’ve learned that when all else fails, taking a walk usually helps.
I’ve learned that something is better than nothing, even if that something isn’t as perfect as I’d hoped.
I’ve learned that 3 mg of melatonin is just what the doctor ordered.
I’ve learned that sometimes emojis can convey what words truly can’t.
Finally, I’ve learned that while your twenties are for lamenting the world around you, your thirties are for making fun of yourself in your twenties. And I should know. I’ve had a lot of practice. (I can’t wait to see what my forties will be for.)
On the first day of this new year, my sweet Papa passed away. You may remember that I wrote about him here, or maybe you’ve just heard me tell stories about him, or maybe you’ve had the wonderful privilege of spending time with him yourself. Regardless, he was one of my very favorites, and while I know that he lived a long, lovely, generous life, I can’t help but feel a sort of shifting.
I was able to see him, just last week, as Rob and I drove to west Texas to spend Christmas with him and the rest of my family. He’d aged a tremendous amount since the last time we visited, and due to his body doing what a body does in old age, he spent his final Christmas in a hospital bed. Over and over again, he reminded us how blessed he was and how much he loved his family. He still waxed poetic about what meals he was eating, and what meals he was looking forward to, and what meals he had already eaten; and when he finally was able to come back home to his chair and TV, he requested biscuits and sausage gravy because, as they say, you only live once.
When the news came in that he had passed, I wasn’t entirely surprised. He was ninety-four, after all, and I knew his health was rapidly declining. And while I’m, of course, incredibly sad, I think what has shaken me the most is a feeling that seems something parallel to being left behind. You see, I don’t have any grandparents left. My papa was the final remaining member of his generation in my family. With his passing comes a profound sense of lost – not just of his life and what he meant to me, but also of a very sweet season of my own life, filled with my precious grandparents’ houses and visits and surprises and hugs. I feel very lucky to have had them for as long as I did, and yet, I already miss the luxury of grandma and grandpas, mamas and papas.
We won’t have much of a reason to travel back to Plainview now. After so many years of making the trip to the small, dusty town, it’s strange to think that there isn’t anything left to tie us to it. Life has moved us all forward, and with Papa’s death, I can’t imagine that we’ll take the detour towards west Texas too often. In a few days, we’ll all make the trek one more time, and we’ll say our quiet goodbyes. The grandchildren will say goodbye to our sweet summer memories of the local small town country club pool, and building forts in the living room, and being spoiled rotten in a million small ways, and our parents, well, they will say goodbye to their father and to all that he was, in a million big ways. And then we will scatter, of course, like families do- hearts tied together but lives that require the miles in between to loom large. Without our grandparents, we will have to forge new anchors. And while it is the natural way of things, this kind of shifting, it still feels like a weighty kind of responsibility- the children and the grandchildren, now the carriers of the torch.
Angus Courtney Ott, Jr. - the best kind of name for the best kind of man (but I may be biased.) What a life you lived and what courage you carried. May we do your story justice, Papa, and may what you gave be just the beginning of what will be given.
In my office at school, I have a large print-out, brailled and taped to a bare, beige wall. It reads:
What do I want?
What am I doing?
Is it helping or hurting?
What is my plan?
Originally, I put these statements up to help provide a simple reminder to the students who I see. I want them to know that they have autonomy, that they have control, and that they can work towards their own personal goals, no matter how big or small they may seem. In truth, these statements are not incredibly groundbreaking or unique; most likely, they are taped up on beige walls in many a counselor’s office across the world. But I’ve found that sometimes we need reminders about the simple things to help give us a cadence for the more complicated, challenging things. We can all use a cheat sheet taped to the wall every once in a while.
The students I work with are blind or visually impaired, and often have other disability conditions that can contribute to difficulty in meeting “normal” expectations and goals. Dreaming can be hard when you don’t look like or have the same social-emotional, cognitive, or physical abilities as those around you. Heck, dreaming can be hard even when you do. If there is anything that I’ve learned over the past five years of working with this population, it is that the human whole - the heart, mind, body, and spirit- is capable of so much more than we often know how to discuss, define, or even dream. Every single one of us is a miracle. And yet, almost every single one of us struggles to recognize where we fit in among all of the other miracles in this world.
When I ask my students the simple question of, “What do you want?”, there is almost always a hesitation in their response. Often they don’t know. Or maybe they know, but they don’t want to say. Or, maybe they want to say, but they don’t know how. I don’t blame them. I’m not very good at talking about what I want either. In fact, most of the time I’m pretty terrible at it. I try to talk myself out of my dreams with practical “facts” that are generally designed to temper my anticipation of failure. I know I’m not alone in this. Young or old, the fear of failure does not discriminate.
You may know (or you may not) that I would really like to write a book. LIKE, I REALLY WANT TO WRITE A BOOK. But, writing a book is scary. Things could go wrong. People could hate it. I could run out of things to write about. Or the things I write about could be deemed unimportant. Or stupid. Or ridiculous. And do I even have time to write a book? And how do I get an agent? And what if no one wants to publish it? What if I write about people I love, and the people I love are hurt by what I write? The list goes on and on. So, I don’t write said book. And then I feel lousy, which, of course, only serves to reinforce the obvious conclusion that I am CLEARLY INCAPABLE OF WRITING WORDS AND EVERYONE HATES ME.
And so, it comes as no surprise that yesterday I found myself staring intently at those four questions taped to my wall. I thought about them for a bit, weighed them out for a bit more, and then got to work making a short list of tangible, doable things that I can improve on to help me work towards what I want. It wasn’t monumental, and it wasn’t life-changing, but it was a swift kick in the pants to get moving towards the things that I dream about in the very quietest parts of my day. I’m taking inspiration from my beautiful, messy, miraculous students and not letting my penchant for “practicality” keep me from looking for opportunities to be brave. I may not be writing a book (yet), but I am trying to write more and share more and open myself up to the possibility of what is to come. Yes, it’s scary stuff. But it’s also one of the greatest privileges in the world- to have the freedom to ask yourself what you want and to move towards it with your whole heart, one step at a time. Sometimes, we just have to be reminded.
I once heard someone describe this time of year as the wisest of seasons and the idea has always stuck with me. Autumn is steady and true in what it brings to the table, and to me, it represents the perfect in-between place to rest, reflect, and prepare for the months ahead. Some years, it’s unpredictable. The rain falls too often and the leaves don’t fall often enough. It’s hot when I want it to be cool, and it’s wet when I want to be gallivanting outside, building bonfires and wearing flannel. But other years? Well, it’s perfect. The weather is perfect. The smells are perfect. The sounds are perfect. And it feels like your favorite book - comforting and cozy and, well, very, very wise.
But guys, can I be honest? So far, these first few weeks of autumn have felt like a far cry from my favorite book. This weekend, we were given one glorious day in which the sun shone just the right amount and the air floated in through open windows just as it should – sweet and unburdened. Rob and I made soup and re-potted plants and walked the dogs and read books and did the sorts of things that a sunny Sunday is made for. We took deep breathes and settled in and basked in the unfamiliar warmth of the sun. (The sun! What an amazing thing!) Then, sometime yesterday, the sky once again turned gray, the rain drizzled down to the ground for what felt like the 647th time this month, and I officially gave up on October. While it’s usually my very favorite, it’s been a treacherous traitor this year and I think that we may be in a fight.
Due to this rainy ridiculousness, we, as in the collective city of Austin, Texas, have been put under an emergency water warning that requires everyone to minimize the use of water as much as possible and to, you know, boil any water that will be used to eat, drink, or wash dishes for the next 5-7 days, because apparently this is the kind of place that we live now. On one hand, it’s a completely helpful and important exercise in recognizing how blessed we are to have access to fresh, clean water day in and day out. It’s humbling to connect with such a basic resource and to remind oneself of the steps it takes to ensure that this resource can be used fully and wholly. But, on the other hand? It’s terribly inconvenient and makes for grumpy co-workers who have to work extra hard to acquire their morning coffee. I’d like to blame the city for its lack of preparation, but really? I just blame October.
So, November, if you’re listening, now is your time to shine. Both literally and figuratively.
For a big summer finale, my mom, sister, and I decided to take a road trip from Lincoln, NE to Asheville, NC. Because my mom is the greatest, she threw out the idea several months ago and we got to work planning our route. We decided to spend a few days in Nashville, make a pit stop at Dollywood (duh) and then make our way to Asheville to see my dear friend Lyndsey. Nashville was a delight, with it’s charming neighborhoods and delicious food, while Dollywood was pretty much the most perfectly kitschy place to spend a day that I can imagine. And Asheville? Well, I love Asheville, and it doesn’t hurt that one of my very favorites lives there too. We gallivanted at the Biltmore, took some beautiful drives out to Black Mountain and Montreat, and even took a quick side trip out to Greenville, SC. When it was all said and done, we drove over 40 hours in 7 days. And? I only cried twice. So all in all, I’d say it was a roaring success.
Back in June, Rob and I were fortunate enough to be able to take a couple of weeks to explore a few wonderful spots in the Pacific Northwest. It was my first trip to the west coast, and it felt something akin to taking a long, cleansing exhale. What a graceful, beautiful place. We flew into San Francisco, rented a car, and drove north, hitting up Sonoma, Mendocino, and Cannon Beach, Oregon. To give our eyes some reprieve from those ugly, ugly ocean views, we headed east and stopped in Portland and, finally, Bend. We saw some unbelievable sights and devoured some delicious food and met some really interesting people. Mendocino completely stole my heart, as did the Oregon coast, and all in all, I count it as a win that I was even able to get on the plane to come home. Is the west coast truly the best coast? Well, I’ll just say that it put on a pretty bang-up show.
Months and months ago, Rob and I took a trip to Big Bend. It was my first time to spend time in the park and, oh my goodness, it did not disappoint. We arrived to a bit of weather, but by the time the next morning rolled around, we awoke to the most perfect sunset. We hiked and camped the South Rim Trail and I can’t recommend it enough. The sky was large, the world was almost completely silent, and I definitely could have stayed there forever. Get thee to Big Bend, friends.
In one week’s time, I will celebrate having spent thirty-six years alive and well. What a thing to think about. While my birthdays have always been a hard thing for me to rally behind, I’m actively putting in the mental work to see the good, sit in the present, and acknowledge both the things that I can’t change, and the things that I can. It’s in this vein that I recently had a realization. This year has been wonderful in so many ways. I feel deeply grateful, almost all of the time, and I know how good this season of life has been to me. And yet, if I’m being brutally honest, I would be hard pressed to describe a time to you when I’ve felt less confident in who I am. I don’t have one particular reason why, except that it’s been a more difficult battle to fight - to wake up every morning, look at myself in the mirror, and feel at home with what I see. While I often feel lovely, I don’t think I look lovely, and so in order to keep my mind in a steady place, I move my focus on to other things - work, friends, our house, our finances, our future- all of the other things that I can quantify and seek to control. I avoid having my picture taken. I avoid seeing evidence of what I fear to be true. And instead I work to be better in other ways- the more valuable ways- in the hopes that I can convince myself that being beautiful, thin, and sexy is a fool’s errand.
This is, of course, almost an impossible thing to accomplish and an even harder thing to talk about out loud. No one really wants to hear another person, especially a woman, complain about feeling less-than-pretty or unsure of herself. And so, I try to not talk about it. Instead, i find that it often creeps up to the surface in other unhealthy ways - in my marriage and in my relationships and in the ways that I interact with others. I find myself avoiding shopping so I don’t have to try on clothes, or saying no to certain invitations because I’m terrified of having to wear something uncomfortable or unflattering. The thought of swimming with others invokes legitimate anxiety and it’s been years since I’ve worn a pair of shorts around anyone other than myself. I know all of this is irrational, unhealthy, and ridiculous. When I see it in others, I am able to call out the truth, and recognize the lies. And yet, with me, it continues to be a personal war that rages on, and on, and on. It’s exhausting, destructive, and damaging, but has still become so familiar that it feels like a kind of second coat that I grab before walking out the door. Sometimes I forget that I even have it on. Other times, if feels so heavy that I can barely breathe. I’m almost thirty-six years old, and I’m still struggling to take off the damn coat.
Those who know me well know that I’ve long wrestled with having a healthy body image. My weight has been a consistent, if not ridiculous worry, and I’ve shied away from having a scale in my home because I’m acutely aware that those numbers hold far more power over me then they should. In the last few years, as my thirties have taken hold of my metabolism and my medication has aided in adding a few pounds, I’ve had to actively work harder to pursue a healthy relationship with myself. It’s been really, really challenging and more often than not, it feels as though I’m failing. This year has been specifically trying, as I’ve worked hard to exercise more, sweat more, and make better choices with food and what I’m putting into my body. Some days have felt better than others. And some days have found me crying an embarrassing amount, not really because of what I see in the mirror, but because of the frustration that comes with knowing full well where my value lies and still struggling to hold on to this truth. It feels silly and selfish and immature. And yet, there it is.
I share all of this because I think I’m coming to the innate conclusion that as we grow older, our paradoxes grow as well. In a year that has brought me so much joy, I also have experienced a devastating lack of self-esteem. And in a year that has felt like so much change, I feel the same in a million tiny ways. I feel more certain about the whole of what I believe, and yet I have a laundry list of doubts that I’m continually thinking, praying, and writing about. I love where we live and the home we have created, and yet I am continually flustered by this place, this city, and the world that surrounds it. I love the woman that I am, and yet some days, I can barely stand to look at myself in the mirror. I know I am not alone in these contradictions and I know I’m not alone in the lessons that are born from them. Two things can be true at the same time. I can struggle to feel beautiful and still believe that I am good, valuable, and worthy. I’m working hard to be gentle with myself. And I’m working hard to find the balance - to eat the things, drink the wine, and embrace the cellulite- while still pursuing a wholly healthy self and self-image. I haven’t arrived quite yet, and I know that is ok. I know in my depths that I am loved, regardless of what the scale says or how unflattering the picture may be, and I know that my true value can’t be defined by things that I can control or measure. So, I say, here’s to the paradoxes, and the contradictions, and the messiness that comes with growing older. I will do my best to celebrate all of it, even the hard, embarrassing, terrifyingly true parts. I’m a big believer that truth begets beauty (the real kind), and if that isn’t a birthday gift worth giving to yourself, I’m not sure what is.
Three weeks ago, Rob and I packed up our (very) small duplex and moved a few miles west into a magical world of white walls, wood floors, a full sized-fridge, a grapefruit tree (!) and an actual backyard. While a house may just be a house, a home is where the good, true, and authentic moments settle into the cracks and crevices, and I’m so very excited to create a new home to share with the people we love. In a way, I think I’d forgotten how important this is to me - the work of putting together a space that feels like an extension of our thoughts, experiences, and curiosities- and I’m so thankful for such a lovely, blank slate from which to dream.
A few days ago, Rob and I decided to take the dogs for a walk, and as we put on their leashes and headed out, I was overwhelmed with the heavy, wonderful realization that we are in the sweetest of seasons. If there is anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it is to acknowledge and soak in the waters of the good stuff - the peace, the calm, the contentment- and to appreciate the gentle waves that surround you in preparation for the rougher waters that almost always lie ahead. Yes, my job has been stressful, and our dogs are getting older and more expensive by the minute, and my car may stop working any moment, and sometimes Rob and I want to kick each other in the shins, but goodness, life feels pure and approachable right now. And I don’t want to take that feeling for granted.
The world is hurting in so many ways- and not just today, but yesterday, and the day before that, and tomorrow, and next week, and next month. The division is real, and the pain is true, and sometimes it can be difficult for me to recognize my own contentment in the midst of all of this without feeling tremendous guilt. But here is what I know: in these moments, I have the power to see, acknowledge, and call out the good. I also have the choice to sit in it, embrace it, and then let it empower me to wade out into the rough waters so that I can help those around me see the good as well. There is no shame in recognizing joy, just as there is no weakness in acknowledging pain. These two things can co-exist. Sometimes I forget this. And it may sounds silly, but I’m thankful for our small, new house and its big, blossoming grapefruit tree for helping to help remind me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.