Summer & Whole 30

This summer, partly in a morbid way and partly because I felt stunned by the state of things, I kept catching myself saying, “what a weird time to be alive.” I was feeling the tug of personal pain and utter frustration with the shifting values of this country counterbalanced with some amazing, fulfilling interactions and adventures that opened me up to so much. I LIVED this summer, and, in doing so, I often felt caught between feelings of guilt and gratitude. For example,

  • I protested the inhumane and unjustified separation of children from their parents along the U.S. border while I was in Washington DC. This was fulfilling and heartbreaking and meaningful all at once, but then I felt guilty about my opportunity/decision to step away and enjoy an incredibly fun weekend with Bret’s college friends in Pennsylvania.
  • On a two-hour shuttle ride, when I was feeling sad and directionless, I became friends with a 72 year old marathon runner who motivated me to start running again. We’re penpals now and I’m so dang grateful but now I feel so lazy when I’m not running regularly.
  • When I was feeling stuck on the side of a mountain I called home, two of my friends organized a girls weekend at an airbnb on a vineyard where we stayed with an awesome couple who had lived in New York, London, Australia and China before quitting their jobs to run that vineyard together (what a dream!!), but I also thought of all the people who deserved a break more than I did… and felt guilty.
  • I also visited Montreal, Canada for the first time, and spent time with good people at JMU, and the beach. I am SO grateful for these trips and these people who have embraced my sometimes unpredictable emotions.

This summer, I had some thought-provoking conversations and some tough ones. Boone was generally difficult, and I’m so glad that season is over (more on the magical city of Winston Salem soon, I promise!) I’m still untangling ideas and I know I’ll have more to write about soon, but for now, in attempt to clear out my blog draft folder, here’s a new blog post I’d been working on about… well, food.

Have you heard of Whole30? I’m addicted to sugar, but I did a food experiment that showed me how much better I feel when I eat real food on a regular basis. If you are interested, my experience is below 🙂

In May, Bret and I were persuaded to try eating Whole 30 foods. I hate restrictive diets and the concept of ‘bad’ food so I was very hesitant to give it a go, but I’ve heard it was ‘life-changing’ and I’d been doing a lot of emotional eating over the past year which has made me feel worse, not better.

Whole 30 consists of eating only ‘whole’ foods for 30 days. This includes: all fruits, all vegetables, nuts, eggs, and non-processed meat (i.e. grilled chicken, not a hot dog). It does NOT include any dairy (cheese, milk), grains (pasta, bread), beans (including chickpeas/hummus – my fave!), alcohol or sugary processed foods (cupcakes, candy). I was not feeling the restrictiveness of it, but I liked how you’re only supposed to eat this way for 30 days before you re-introduce your regular foods back in. It’s how some people realize that they have a food allergy (dairy) or intolerance (gluten) which is good to know, so I thought, why not try it out? Thankfully Bret was also on board which was important since we usually cook together or take turns cooking dinner.

I was surprised that, for me, the first few days were easy. We ate a lot of avocado omelets, fruit and spinach smoothies, and simple but wonderful dinners like shrimp gumbo and salmon (me) or chicken (Bret) with Brussels sprouts. Bret especially loved that he could still make his favorite meal: well-seasoned potatoes, onions, and eggs.

Whole30 doesn’t support snacking, but I ignored that rule and regularly snacked on nuts (cashews, pistachios) or apples with almond butter which I LOVED whenever I felt hungry.

Here’s an example of some ‘movie snacks’ that we enjoyed one night on the couch: cashews, potatoes, strawberries, grapes, and smoked salmon. That actually ended up being our dinner because we were so full!

I missed baking trays of cookies and eating ice cream, but after about a week of Whole30, I didn’t mind so much. I was sleeping better, having less headaches, and generally feeling pretty good. I realized my sugar addiction was real. Eventually, I stopped thinking about the cookie dough in our freezer every morning.

We probably could have continued eating this way for a full 30 days if we stayed home, but Bret and I travel a lot. We tried to find a stretch of 30 days when we were “mostly” home, but for us, mostly home meant that we had to abide by this really restrictive diet on a road trip to visit my family and then separately in airports and at work conferences, and that was not fun or easy. When I traveled for work, I packed lara bars and almond butter and apples (even though the fruit got my carry-on bag searched by TSA), but I wasn’t about to skip a free plated vegetarian meal that was served to me during a conference session just because it included some pasta.

We both did better when we traveled together. We fell in love with simple Made to Order Sheetz salads (lettuce, veggies, hard boiled egg, avacado, olive oil and vinegar) and as a serious sushi lover, I even came around and tried Sashimi – aka raw fish served on a plate (no rice!) and it was surprisingly my favorite thing I’ve ever ordered at this restaurant. I mean… look at this presentation!

Basically, we did our best, but, from the beginning we agreed that we were not about to limit ourselves to meat, fruit, vegetables, and nuts while visiting one of the food tourist capitals of the world: Montreal, Canada!

So we didn’t. We did Whole25ish (25 days instead of 30) and then we indulged on some of the most beautiful bagels on the planet, cheese covered French fries, and loveliest pastries my eyes had ever seen. To be clear, I knew I was over Whole30 because I went for a cheese pastry before I even left the New York airport. I’ll save those pictures for my future Canada post, but, I’ll leave you with a Whole 30 dinner I ate solo while I was in D.C.: an acai smoothie bowl topped with mango, raw coconut, bananas, bee pollen(?), I don’t even know. It was good, though. 

And later, there were free brownies that were offered to me and I know I could have said no to but they were amazing and I didn’t regret this one “non-compliant” dessert at all. Although, it did make me appreciate that occasional brownie instead of expecting to have a handful of cookies every day, sigh, I can’t deny that it was a good practice to swap out my love for cookies with some fresh fruit.

For the most part, I really liked the way I was feeling when I was eating lots of fruit and vegetables and basing my meals around eggs and seafood. It felt good to have so many ‘whole’ snacks like nuts in my diet, too. Truthfully, I used to eat fruit smoothies and salads on a regular basis, so it was a good reset.

We thought maybe we could find a stretch of 30 days to do this again when we’re both home for a whole month, but that month doesn’t exist. Since May, I’ve been in DC (work dinners!), we were in PA and loved eating at Bret’s hometown sub shop and pizza place, we reunion-ed with friends at JMU (donuts! And bar hopping!), we spent a weekend at the beach (I threw some apples in the cooler but alongside ice cold peppermint patties). And in honor of Bret’s birthday month, we ate a lot of pizza. My work travel picks up in the fall and then it’s Thanksgiving, so, basically, we’ve done our Whole30 stint for 2018.

I guess I will say Whole30 showed me two things: how to not be emotionally dependent on food, and how to break a sugar addiction (kinda). Mainly, it gave me a good model for the type of food I want to eat on a regular basis when I’m working from home and when we’re able to cook our own dinners.

I’m grateful for that, but there are a lot of things that I don’t love about Whole30: the emphasis on all-or-nothing, labeling dessert as a bad food, and how if you miss the tiniest detail like accidentally putting creamer in your coffee you’re supposed to start back at Day 1. I guess there’s not enough forgiveness in Whole30 for me. And I believe life is too short not to indulge in an occasional scoop of Kline’s ice cream.

A MUCH NEEDED Transition

I watched a TedTalk a while ago about the power of community which essentially said that when you share your dreams and challenges within a community, someone there can help you succeed. As humans, we need to feel like part of a community in order to feel safe and grow and thrive. Community is everything, basically, but for a while now, I haven’t really had one.

For the past three years I’ve lived on the side of a mountain in a town that I feel only a small connection to. I went to a church here once where the sermon derailed into a declaration on how you should eat something wild (i.e. a weed growing in your yard) every day. Also, I went to an upmarket farm to table restaurant and while it was lovely and delicious, I discovered a live worm crawling around in my salad. When I gently brought attention to this, our server brought me another salad, but I wondered if the typical customer would have just eaten around it. And finally I went wine tasting at a popular vineyard and was told by the owner that getting a fruit fly in your glass  is good luck. Lucky me, I got three in my first pour. I never went back there.

Boone is a weird little place that a lot of people love, but it has never felt like home to me. I’ve made a few good friends here who supported me through grief and generally made life manageable, and I’m very grateful for them, but overall, I’ve found Boone to be incredibly isolating and crowded at the same time. We can’t go anywhere – not even the grocery store – without navigating tourist traffic and happenstance running into one of Bret’s colleagues or better yet a grumpy tourist with an urgent need for directions to the alpaca farm because GPS nor phone signal exists in half the area.

In some ways those experiences were entertaining, but every interaction requires energy and Boone has been really good at keeping my energy level low.

And let’s talk about Boone weather for a moment, shall we? Fall starts in August, winter is here by October, and the first year I was here, it snowed on Cinco de Mayo. In May. And regardless of the season, it is almost always gloomy and foggy and damp here which makes the roads treacherous. It’s a stressful combination that generally makes me feel trapped and desperate to leave at the same time.

Another unpleasant challenge: Boone is hard to get to. It’s two hours from the nearest airport, and that drive is up a long steep mountain road that is often blanketed in fog and/or heavy rain. Just knowing these roads separate me from the rest of the world further contributes to my feelings of isolation.

What else? The housing market is ridiculously over-priced since most of the houses here are vacation homes. Even if you have half a million dollars to throw at a house with a decent mountain view, it won’t have high speed internet or city water or trash pick up or a state maintained paved road. Some people love that about mountain life, but I really, really, really don’t.

We were very fortunate to find a somewhat affordable place to rent in town, but living on a side of a mountain without air conditioning in a 1970’s house that leaks, cracks, has major electrical issues and never sees sunlight helps nothing.

Y’all, I’ve tried to make peace with living here. I’ve written my gratitude lists and kept things in perspective, but It’s been a long three years. Every time someone has told me that “it could be worse” I’ve nodded along, like, sure it could, but I want it to be BETTER.

Well. After enjoying a beach vacation, and dreading our return to our house full of cracks and leaks and mold, we received a late night phone call notifying us that due to some sad events, the house we rent was being sold and we’d need to move later this year. At first this set of a panic, where would we move on such short notice?!

Nothing was available in Boone, but Bret had a brilliant I mean BRILLIANT idea to use this as an opportunity to live somewhere we love.

Long story short, within 6 days, we decided to MOVE TO WINSTON-SALEM!

We had never even visited, but in a span of 3 afternoons driving back and forth to our new city, we:

  • found a perfect apartment with a surplus of natural light
  • dined in an an oyster bar that felt just like Tallahassee
  • enjoyed a First Friday art event downtown
  • chatted with the friendly indie movie theater staff
  • laughed with a neighboring table in a coffee house that is a dream come true (one of Bret’s biggest gripes about Boone is the lack of a quality coffee shop. This one had excellent coffee, wifi, cheesecake, wine, ample seating…it’s perfect)

…And two weeks later we officially moved.

In short, Winston-Salem feels like home already and we truly couldn’t be happier about this transition. I can BREATHE better here, literally and figuratively. Everything about this move makes our lives better, except for Bret’s commute, but I’m so glad that he’s willing to do it because it is oh so worth it.


Journaling and Therapy

I can’t say enough good things about journaling. I’ve been writing in journals since I was five, and it’s always therapeutic to carve out time just to sit and write out my current fears and joys. After emptying my mind onto a page, I don’t have to keep running through the same thoughts and concerns. Plus, I love going back and reading my old entries. It helps me keep tabs on my goals and mood and overall health: mental, physical, and emotional. Online journals and blogs can be great, too, but I love the pen and paper process.

This year, I started keeping a bullet journal which has basically turned into a series of lists and charts that manage my day to day life. I regularly track:

  • My “self care” routines (things like how often I sleep, shower, write, and go outside)
  • Distance I run/walk every day
  • Which yoga videos I practice
  • The foods I eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

It feels tedious sometimes, but after a year of unpredictable moods, eating poorly, and neglecting so many of my basic needs, I’m now able to connect the dots between my behaviors and how I’m feeling. I’ve noticed trends with my mood and sugary food intake, for example. I also write out my ‘high’ and ‘low’ feelings for each day. It’s work, but it’s also such a helpful, therapeutic tool: being able to see what brings me joy (being outside! travel! friendships!) and also what is causing me stress so I can learn how to manage everything better.

Speaking of therapy, I loved reading this short piece. My favorite line is:

“[therapy] was the place where I discovered the role anxiety was playing in my life, and it wasn’t pretty. It was one light bulb moment after another. It was like going in for my annual physical only to learn I’d been operating with a low-grade fever my entire life.”

It makes me sad that, for many people, there’s still a stigma toward going to therapy and taking care of your mental health. Therapy has been such an important and beneficial tool during major transitions in my life, and my hope is that in the near future, just like we visit our doctors for annual physical exams, it will normal to meet with a therapist for a mental wellness check in each year.
All this is to say, if you’re feeling stuck or unhappy or overwhelmed (who isn’t with the current state of things?!), I highly recommend journaling and/or therapy. Both can be such tremendous gifts to yourself.

Five Years

This March, Bret and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary with a trip to New York City!

It was such a fun and memorable way to mark 5 years of marriage.

We loved eating authentic NYC bagels (especially with lox and cream cheese!), wandering through a bookstore in Chelsea Market on a weekday morning before the crowds, seeing an original Vincent van Gogh at MOMA, strolling through Central Park, frequenting the M&M store in Times Square, and checking out the view from the Top of the Rockefeller Center.

It was cold, but it was fun. I loved sharing a giant, perfect slice of oreo cheesecake which reminded me of the cheesecakes I used to sell as a fundraiser for my middle school orchestra. And I loved listening to Bret point out places he remembered from his trip marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

The best part of the trip was getting to sit in on the live audience for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.


I wanted to be in that live audience so badly and it was 100% worth the emotional roller coaster of being waitlisted a week before, getting a last minute spot, nearly having our flight cancelled for snow, and then waiting outside for 4 hours to get a seat. We were so in awe of the studio set details like the awesome chapel style dome with projection images. I loved glancing back and forth between live Stephen and the TV monitors to see how everything looked on the screen. We didn’t get a guest appearance by Jon Stewart, but we got to see Mindy Kaling which was wonderful!

I’m really glad we were able to take that trip. I’m really grateful for all of the adventures we’ve had during these past five years together.

Year 1: Lived in Florida and drove to Disney + the beach for day trips.Exported-0034
Year 2: Bret wrote his dissertation, was on the job market, and we went on a cruise! Tallahassee-89
Year 3: Bret got his Ph.D., we moved to North Carolina, and I ran my first half marathon!Aug 2015_2Anniversary_7


Year 4: Visited England, Scotland and Wales on the most hilarious bus tour.

And that brings us to Year 5…

This has been an incredibly difficult year. Most days were saturated with grief and pain while I was navigating depression, feeling isolated and grappling with extremely difficult questions. Time kind of dissolved and I didn’t feel like myself at work or with most of my friends, but Bret was always there, validating my feelings. Being able to talk openly has been so vital to my healing. I’ve relied on Bret to stop me when I’m moving down a dangerous train of thought or worrying about something unrealistic. I know I could have survived this year without him, but I’m very grateful to have had him here. Of course, no matter how wonderful Bret is (and trust me, he’s amazing), it will never replace the relationship that’s missing. I started crying the last time I heard someone say “hey, come here, I want you to meet my parents!” …because I’ll never get to say that again.

Everything is different. We’ve both had a big priority shifts this year which has been really healthy. We’ve said ‘no’ to commitments that we weren’t totally invested in and now we have more time together to pursue other interests, adventures and to stay home. I love our new routines like making chocolate chip brioche french toast and ‘potato madness’ (potatoes, onions, eggs) for dinner on Friday nights. We dance around to music and Bret peels and chops potatoes while I make french toast batter and talk about our days. Another great experience from this year has been digitizing my family home videos in Bret’s office/our guest room. Spending time in that room is so relaxing and I think I love it because it isn’t mine.

I probably could have spent this whole year in my pajamas on my couch (honestly, I work from home, this would have been totally possible) but my mission has been to live the life I want. Just like we’ve said ‘no’ to some things, instead of cowering in fear or further isolating myself in sadness I’ve tried to say YES to new things that make me feel alive.


Based on those two pictures Year 5 looks pretty incredible. Together, we said yes to our first trip to Japan, witnessing the full solar eclipse in TN with some of Bret’s college friends, running a half marathon together, and most recently, that short but epic New York City trip. Through the pain, I’ve pushed myself to do things that I think will make me really happy (like going to Disney World) and things that are slightly uncomfortable (like flying solo in a middle seat on a 14 hour flight) because life is meant to be lived and I know my dad wants me to keep on living.

I say it every year and it’s always true, I love Bret more this year than ever before. I love this marriage we’ve built together. I love all of our adventures. I love writing together and working on projects together. I love the trust and comfort and happiness I feel when Bret walks into a room. I love how he forgives me when I screw up. This has been a horrible year, objectively, but our relationship is so strong and so good and I’m just so grateful. I hope that we have many, many more years together, but I’ve learned that life is short and unpredictable. I’m so grateful for this year that we’ve had together, and, honestly, I’m just going to keep living each one like it could be our last.

Oh, and because I want to document everything these days, here are some videos we made during year 5 of marriage. Check back in a couple weeks because a NYC video is in the works!

Life Lately

I haven’t been actively posting to social media or blogging recently and it feels good to “unplug” and spend time away from my phone after work. When I don’t share my life or feelings in some public way, it seems like I have a if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods-and-no-one-hears-it kind of relationship with this digital age we’re living in, but most of the things that I’m feeling are messy and uncomfortable so I prefer to share them in real conversations or in grief-related spaces. And I want to document the good parts of my life right now, but if I only share those shiny parts without context, it feels incomplete and insincere. Still, I want to document some things, so here’s a life update that bounces around into all of the difficult and joyful pieces of my life lately. Grab a cup of coffee, this is a long one.

Truthfully, I feel disconnected from a lot of people right now. I attribute some of that to my own social isolation but I’m also just tired of explaining that I’m still grieving. When someone asks how I’m feeling, I never know how to describe it. I have a giant hole in my life where my dad is supposed to be and I can’t even begin to put into words how much I miss him. Or how homesick I feel when I think about the version of myself that I got to be whenever I was around him. Winter darkness and cold temperatures reignited a lot of my pain and trauma so Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas and now this winter just feels like a weird place lodged in time that doesn’t fit into a normal, chronological calendar year.

I don’t feel fully present most of the time. Most of the time, normal conversation topics feel too “small potatoes” to me, and whenever someone talks about their dad or says anything that remotely reminds me that my dad isn’t physically here, my heart aches. Sometimes I get angry, sometimes I shut down, sometimes I cry. Sometimes I push my feelings down and keep it all together, but that never feels good.

I still cry when I go to yoga half the time (I took this photo before a yoga class in December).

At the same time, while grieving, I’m out in the world doing normal, functional things. I was just in DC, for example. I worked in a real office with real people (I’m kind of over teleworking right now) and one night, I enjoyed a bottomless champagne happy hour with coworkers. In that moment, I felt light and free. Then, I got to spend some time with my sister and baby nephew and brother-in-law and cousins and I belly laughed. It was so wonderful. I doubt I would be in a healthy place right now if it wasn’t for my incredible sister’s patience and perspective. And I’m so very grateful for the friendships I have with my cousins. We are abnormally close and I love it.

I have a lot of good things in my life. And I have a lot of good moments, but good days are regularly interrupted by tough emotional work and even though my therapist assures me that I’m managing everything really well, grief makes normal life feel helplessly exhausting. It’s something I never understood before – how intensely grief can take over and become a part of everything you do and think and feel. I’m grateful for the people who get that, but I don’t blame the ones who don’t.

It’s been hard to live so far away from my support system, but making friends in Boone, especially friends who understand grief, has made this freezing mountain town feel more like home. For a while, all of my Boone friends were couples with babies and while I adore them and value their friendships so much, no one was ever available to hang out after 8pm which made me long for my Tallahassee and DC and Harrisonburg people. I’m so grateful for recent weekends where I’ve stayed out until midnight (what???) enjoying things like Cosmic bowling and late night dinners and empowering conversations about resistance and activism right here in sleepy ol’ Boone. Last week, we had friends over just to watch the Olympics until 11. On a week night. I loved it! I also grabbed coffee with a new friend one morning and had such a good conversation about life and faith and being more engaged in change – it was such an energizing way to begin the day. Spending regular face to face time with people feels so good and so necessary (especially after a week of teleworking!) and it’s something that I was missing for a while.

I still need to spend a healthy amount of time “off the mountain” as they say and Bret and I have a lot of travel coming up. We both have work travel and fun trips on our calendars – some together, some separate. When my snack time co-founder was like, “Hey do you want to go to Canada this summer?” I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’m hoping that by always having something to look forward to, I can fight the uneasy feeling I get when I’m stuck at home for too long. I may have over-scheduled myself, though. We’ll see how I’m feeling in a few months.

This past weekend, I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon again. I was running through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot and literally chasing after that feeling I had in 2016 when I first flew across the finish line. February in Florida is warm and sunny and Bret and I spent days in our favorite Disney parks and nights walking around Disney Springs or sitting by our hotel pool just soaking in the hours we had Florida. And for the most part I felt truly, authentically, soul happy good. Like, maybe if I lived in Florida, life wouldn’t be so painful.

That trip wasn’t all smiles, though. Enter, grief. While I was in Disney, I thought about my dad constantly. And I love thinking about my dad and feeling close to him, but grief can be such a crash and burn out of control experience. One day, it seemed like every turn of a corner reminded me of another happy memory with my dad. Those memories felt so recent – some of them happened just a year and a half ago – and it made me cry. It caught me off guard every time. Bret comforted me whenever that happened and it was mostly manageable but it reminded me that I can’t just run away from grief.

I think I keep chasing after feel good experiences because I WANT to feel happy. I want to do normal things. I want to make positive contributions to the world. I want to keep living the way my dad would want me to. I’m hopeful that each year will bring more peace and comfort and healing, but grief is a slow, painful process and I’m still in it. Sometimes, I wish I could just set it down for a while. I try to push it down sometimes, but it always boils over.

I rarely know how to describe how I’m feeling because my emotions can be so complicated and unpredictable, but I am taking care of myself and prioritizing my healing and still doing the important work. When I see areas in my life that could use some change, I’m trying to address them. Is it time for a move? A job change? A volunteer opportunity? I’ve had a healthy priority shift over the past year and I’m in the process of shedding things I don’t need and growing in ways that are good. Even though I say I feel disconnected and not fully present, I’ve also been feeling a lot more sentimental and reflective and real.
So, in short, I’m still going through something that is really hard, and I’m waiting to see how I come out of it. Time will tell, but I think I’m on a path to growing into the person I’ve wanted to be.


Modified Gratitude

It’s November. Gratitude season. It’s also November: ten months after my dad died.

Holidays are painful this year. I don’t feel like celebrating a year that has been washed over with grief and pain, but I also don’t want to deprive myself of the traditions that bring me comfort and joy. I’m still deciding what to keep and what to skip.

Every November for the past 5 years, I’ve made a “Grateful Jar” and filled it with lists of things that I’m grateful for. Each one is a tiny time capsule. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a 2017 jar, but I decided to make one that reflects my dad. I decorated it with photos of him and phrases that remind me of him like:

  • stay humble
  • listen more
  • let it be
  • be kind

I gathered paper and pens, but I didn’t pressure myself to write every day.

When I did write, I’d focus on experiences I’m grateful my dad and I got to have together. The good thing about gratitude is you can start small, and it snowballs. Sometimes I wouldn’t write anything for a week, and then I would write down one memory and that would remind me of another and another.

On Thanksgiving, I opened the jar and re-read each one. I was flooded with happy memories. It was such a special (read: emotional) way to start the day.

In addition to so many wonderful memories with my dad, I also wrote that I’m grateful for:

  1. My little nephew, Sebastian.
  2. Velveeta the cat (always)
  3. Bret for being such an incredible partner and making me French Press coffee in the morning, half marathon training with me even when it’s freezing outside, and for playing songs on his guitar when I’m sad.
  4. A wonderful therapist and an incredibly empathetic doctor who have helped me better understand and manage my traumatic grief and depression.
  5. Friends who made the long trip “up the mountain” to visit me in Boone this fall, friends who sent me thoughtful snail mail, and friends who continue to check in with me and talk with me even on those difficult days when I’m not myself.

I have a lot to be grateful for, but some days, I can’t see it. I feel helplessly sad. Or I feel angry. Or I feel numb. Because I wasn’t sure how I’d be feeling on Thanksgiving, Bret and I decided to stay in Boone. I missed being with my family, but staying home was peaceful and comforting: the two things I’m seeking most during this season. Bret did ALL of the grocery shopping and made mashed potatoes from scratch. I made Spinach Gratin for the first time which was really, really good (recipe here!) and we also made cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts and bought the most delectable yeast rolls made from scratch at Stick Boy Bread Co.

Side note: Looking at these pictures reminds me I’m grateful for Stick Boy and their delicious yeast rolls, cranberry apple pumpkin bread, and pecan pie, all of which graced our table this week. I think Stick Boy may be my favorite thing about Boone.

It’s difficult to find gratitude in the midst of grief, but sometimes, there is room for both. I can be painfully aware of my dad’s absence and I can be missing him, but I can also be thankful for the holidays that we had together in past years.

I hope you had a wonderful, peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. I’m hoping to create a holiday season that is as comfortable and manageable as possible. If you are looking for ways to support a friend or family member dealing with traumatic grief this year, here are some things to keep in mind.

Year 4: Life is short & love is forever

Four years ago, while writing my wedding vows, I imagined a future with Bret: traveling the world, writing books together, moving to new cities, and finding adventures. I probably thought about the hardships, too. I figured we’d support each other through challenging careers and hold each other up through life’s struggles, whatever they may be. Maybe in the back of my mind I considered a far distant future after our parents had the chance to retire, travel, and live full lives when we’d have to say goodbye to them, but I never imagined losing my father so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and so young.

My dad is on the forefront of my mind all the time. I miss him so much that it hurts, and this pain impacts every aspect of my life including my relationship with Bret. Bret has assured me, a hundred times, that I’m still me and we’re still us, and we’ll survive this and continue to honor my dad and have him be a part of our lives forever. And I believe that. But still. The ground under my feet is unsteady.

One of the questions in my daily journal is: are you craving adventure or stability? Every year, I write: ADVENTURE! But this time? Stability. Stability because I feel unsettled and unsure of everything I’ve ever believed to be true. Nothing feels real and I’m not my normal optimistic, joyful, or adaptable self. And I hate that.

One thing that doesn’t feel real or make sense right now is time. I know that it’s May, technically, but most of the time, I feel stuck in those early weeks of January, and then I forget what month it actually is. I almost forgot about our anniversary, for example. I remember looking at Bret sometime in early March and saying, “Our anniversary is next week” and it was just a passing thought.

We realized our anniversary was the same day that our car, Sparky, was scheduled for service so we just went together at 7am and enjoyed the complimentary Panera bagels and coffee that Subaru serves while you wait. Then, we had typical work days. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but after we ate, we opened a couple sweet cards from friends and family. I tried to reflect on the past year like I usually do, but it felt surreal in a bad way. It felt wrong because those past 12 months were wonderful until they weren’t.

In Year 4 of marriage, we:

  • Explored Scotland, England and Wales with new friends
  • Visited Bret’s parents’ in their new Florida home
  • Spent time with my family in a town my dad had always wanted to visit
  • Watched the Olympics (Bret LOVES the Olympics)
  • Celebrated Bret’s birthday in Asheville with friends
  • Attended the first JMU football game of the season
  • Had friends & family visit us in Boone
  • Watched the Gilmore Girls revival together
  • Spent an amazing time in Disney with my in-laws
  • Enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family

…but then my dad died. It still doesn’t feel possible. And my heart hearts.

One of my friends described the experience of losing her father as a “crack in the universe” where there is a definitive ‘before’ and ‘after’ and I already feel that so much. It’s impossible not to.

Since January, while attempting to navigate this life that doesn’t make sense, I’ve leaned on Bret in ways I never wanted to. He’s been there through uncontrollable tears and panic attacks. He’s brought me food and water and tissues on demand. He’s let me be angry without being angry in return. He’s dropped everything to drive me to Richmond (a 10 hour round trip), or to watch a family home video (17 of them), or whatever I’ve needed. He helped me set up a shelf in our living room to honor my dad when I decided I needed that done immediately, for example. Just, anything. I’m sure I’d be doing the same things for him if our situations were reversed. This reality we’re living: it’s just something I never, ever anticipated.

At some point when Bret was consoling me for the third time in a single day and listening to my same difficult questions, I told him I felt bad because he didn’t sign up for this, and he just said something like, “Of course I did. Remember that whole marriage vow thing?” which made me cry more.

Days after our actual anniversary, I realized we hadn’t taken our annual photo. It was snowing outside so Bret suggested we just stand outside on the deck. We set up the tripod and wore our matching JMU sweat pants:

Taking this photo felt sad and forced – completely different from every year before. I’m glad we have it now, though, that I see it added it to the collection:

Year OneYear Two | Tallahassee, FL

Year Three & Year Four | Boone, NC

Usually this is where I’d say cheers to year five, but I don’t know what I want for this year. I feel guilty even acknowledging this anniversary, to be honest.

We do have one big thing planned: we’re traveling to Japan. Bret is teaching in China this summer and I’m going to fly over and meet him in Tokyo when he’s done. Part of me wants to stay here, tucked away safe at home, but I have been dreaming about visiting Japan for years, and my dad encouraged me to take this trip from the start and again whenever I shared any hesitation in going. So I’m going for him. And for me. And to try to scrap together any semblance of hope that life can still be an exciting adventure.

Some days that does feel like a distant possibility, other days it doesn’t. For now, I’m just going to stay grounded in the truth that has never felt so true: life is short and love is forever.

Stronger Better Faster 30

Well hello faithful readers! It’s been too long. Truthfully, it’s been difficult for me to write post-election. Seven weeks later, I’m still experiencing waves of shock. Every time I begin to feel a bit better, I learn that another under-qualified person with dangerous or degrading messages has been appointed by our president elect. I’ve grieved and allowed myself to feel angry and now I’m channeling that into action. I called my senator and a few offices in DC to voice my concerns, and I’m supporting organizations who still care about women + LGBT rights. I’m also looking for new opportunities to volunteer. I may not be able to change much on my own, but I can’t sleep if I don’t try.

All that’s to say, it’s a good thing that I started planning my 30th birthday before the election because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have had a party at all. And that would have been sad because thirty is a big milestone and I love birthdays and I love parties.

Continue reading

This is Boone | Starry Night edition

A few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday night on my friends’ back porch. We were rocking in rocking chairs, staring up at the stars, and drinking beer and homemade moonshine while there were guns and/or firecrackers firing in the not-so-distant distance. We were enjoying a good conversation and I had one of those moments like I did when I first put on snow boots or that time I wore flannel to brunch where I thought… this is Boone. This is my Boone life.

And then I picked up my rental car the next morning and I drove up to DC for the week.

Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled in different directions: working in DC and living in North Carolina. Continue reading

Great Britain Adventure: Loch Ness + Ben Nevis

In June, Bret and I spent one week in Great Britain. I planned on summarizing that week in a few blog posts this summer and I’ve really fallen behind on those (sorry!) but I’m back. Here’s Day 4! (You can catch up on the first few days here).

After a completely perfect day exploring our new favorite city: Edinburgh, Scotland, we woke up early as usual, packed our backpacks, and enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast in the hotel. Then, we boarded the bus and began our drive up to Inverness! Continue reading

James Madison and Me

Weekend before last weekend was the best weekend.


Bret and I knew we wanted to take a trip to enjoy Labor Day weekend. I wanted the beach – any beach – but Wrightsville and Myrtle Beach are the closest and they are still 5+  hours away. Bret wanted to go to Knobels and Hershey Park with his friends in PA. That is about 8 hours away. Nothing seemed ideal and we couldn’t decide, and then we learned that it was JMU’s opening football game, and instantly, the decision was made. Continue reading

Great Britain Adventure: Edinburgh, Scotland!

The first thing you need to know about our experience in Edinburgh is this: Scotland is usually cold and gray and dreary. It often rains. We were prepared for a chilly, gray day.

Instead, we got this:

Edinburg Castle

The weather was BEAUTIFUL and warm and sunny, and everyone was in an extra joyful mood because of it. Bret and I got to spend half the day with a local who was a friend of a new friend we met on our tour, and he was completely in awe of the weather, too. Everyone was eating ice cream cones and lounging outside. All this is to say, my Edinburgh experience was not typical. Continue reading