September

It’s been almost exactly a month since my last post. In some ways, it feels like a decade and in others I feel like I blinked my eyes and the weeks passed.

My dog Pawley passed away this month and I ache for her in a way I can’t quite explain. I’m still spending most of my time on my parents’ farm (caring for my mom who cannot walk without crutches right now), and at night, after I’ve cleaned up our dinner, I go outside and stretch out in the grass to look up as the stars start to appear. That’s the time of day I allow myself to think about Pawley.

I also sold my house this month. Or, at least, it went under contract. The real estate market felt like the perfect time to sell a home, and so I did some deep cleaning and a few paint touch-ups, and crossed my fingers. 36 hours later I had a contract and started apartment shopping so I won’t be homeless while the new house is being built.

Speaking of which, the new house is making progress. Not fast enough for me—I’m ready to get to the fun stage when I can actually see the view from my bedroom or pick a paint color for the kitchen. But I’m trying to enjoy this moment of really thrilling things like choosing exterior door handle colors and mildly panicking over erosion in the landscaping.

So, that’s been my month. (Well, that and the rest of my normal life.) Nothing really feels normal this year, but there’s something oddly comforting for me about feeling busy with things outside of work. It feels like “the before times” when things were happening outside of my computer screen.

And there’s something so gratifying about creating something new right now—a house, a different life—in a year when the old version feels like putting on a pair of jeans that don’t quite fit right anymore.

And so that’s how I’ll think of September 2020—the month I started to create the next iteration of my life.

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I’m building a house. Well, not literally. Let me rephrase that: I have hired someone to build me a house.

It’s on this little wooded hilltop that I purchased three years ago. When I bought it, I thought “Maybe someday I’ll put a house here.” But I wasn’t in much of a rush. My life was busy and full, I liked living within walking distance of breweries and restaurants, and I half just thought it was a decent investment that I might resell in a few years.

The lot is about two miles down a gravel road in the country. I’ll have well water. There won’t be Door Dash. There will be a lot of deer. Ubers aren’t exactly cruising by. I’ll actually have to drive to my mailbox. And it’s WAY outside of my dog walker’s service area.

But this tiny dream of having a home here has niggled in the back of my mind of years and finally set up shop full time last February. And this year has really pounded me over the head with the idea that life is short and “if not now, when?”

So, I took a deep, deep breath and signed a contract. We’ve finalized the house plan—it’s a cottage largely modeled after this Southern Living plan. They’ve started to clear the land—that’s all that bright red dirt you see above. It’s going to be white with a grey metal roof, a pink front door, and a big back porch.

Anyway, I’ll be using this space to document the experience—as much for my own memories as to share with others. So, prepare yourself for thrilling topics like doorknob brands and mortar color coming soon.

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I’ve been reading Bob Goff’s new book, Dream Big, and it’s pretty good. Usually, I’m a big Bob Goff fan but I think maybe I’m just not in much of a “dreaming big” kind of mood lately this entire year.

Anyway, I recently came across this quote from him and liked it. It feels applicable right now. It makes me wonder what I’ll title my 2020 chapter. Current tentative titles include “Please Make It Stop” and “ARRGHHH WHY?”

But I believe strongly in both redemption and purpose. So, I believe I’ll look back on this year one day and see all the beauty in it. Which reminds me of another quote—this one by Gilda Radner.

“Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.” 

And I think maybe that’s what I want my 2020 chapter to be called: “Delicious Ambiguity.”

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One afternoon earlier this summer I had some fresh blackberries and wanted to make a pie for friends—but didn’t have like half the ingredients I’d need to do that. And, because I am on the “prepared to purchase a hazmat suit” end of the spectrum for Covid, I only order from grocery stores—which can take days.

So, I found this “Easy Blackberry Cobbler” recipe online and it has been a game changer. I’ve now used it six times and it works perfectly for both blackberries and blueberries. It’s so fast and easy, and so good.

Just passing on in case, like me, you have a few extra summer berries that you know would taste better with some buttery crust and whipped cream.

Latinx Novels

After I read American Dirt a few months ago (which I still qualify as one of the best books I’ve read in years), I did a lot of research into the controversy around it. One of the things that brought it under attack was that it was written by a white American woman and that Latin America should get more representation from actual Latinx authors in America’s fiction reading.

That seemed reasonable—especially when I started to consider how little Latin American fiction I’ve read. So, I perused some reviews and chose three books by Latinx authors that looked enjoyable to me. I really liked all of them and I’ve given a mini-review of each below, but before I get to that, I want to address an overarching thought on cultural fiction:

Personally, I think there might be something really valuable in having an American (who identifies as white) write the migrant story. She intrinsically knows how white Americans think. She understands where to make us hurt and how to make us cheer someone on. She has the ability to shift the white American mindset around migrants in a way someone with a different cultural background might not be able to do—not because they’re a lesser writer, but because of cultural understandings.

I don’t know if that’s a controversial—or even a correct—opinion, and I’d be happy for someone to change my mind, but it’s something I’ve thought a lot about as I’ve read these three other books. Anyway, here are my thoughts on those.

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Somehow I bought this book not realizing it was primarily set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. That certainly gave some perspective to the current Covid situation. There are magical and fantastical parts of the book, but it’s primarily a story of a wealthy Mexican farm family—and Mexico in the early 1900s. It’s beautifully written—something that is especially impressive considering it was translated from Spanish. And it’s a book that hits the full range of emotions. It’s rare that I laugh out loud and cry reading the same book, but this one did it.

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This book is fiction, but the author acknowledges at the end that it’s also semi-autobiographical. Of these three books, this one is my favorite. I think that may be for a few reasons. First, the author would be very close in age to me—growing up in the 1990s. Second, it’s set in Colombia during the time of Pablo Escobar—something that we’re all familiar with because of the way stories of the drug lord are woven into American pop culture. Third, there’s a lot of interesting tension and drama in this story. But also this book also just does an incredible job of painting the discrepancies between wealth and poverty, and while it’s set in Bogota, its themes are universal.

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This is a fascinating kind of historical fiction. The author, who moved from the Dominican Republic to the US when she was 10, takes a famed Dominican news story and uses her imagination to create a book featuring the thoughts and lives of three revolutionary sisters known as “the Butterflies.” I knew nothing about the Dominican dictator, Trujillo, and this offered a glimpse of life in the DR during his horrific rule. I find it hard to read historical fiction that you know will end in tragedy (it’s why I only ever watched the first tape in the VHS version of Titanic). But this is a compelling story and worth the read.

 

 

Waiting

Yesterday, my mom was going a little over 13 mph on her bicycle when she struck a pole, shattering her kneecap and fracturing through her shin from top to bottom. I’d just walked in my door from a long walk with Winston when my dad called, telling me she was in an ambulance on her way to the emergency room.

I threw my things—and my dogs—in the car and drove the hour to their house to wait for their call. I cleaned the garden vegetables scattered across their kitchen counter, and made squash casserole and roasted veggies. I neatened up the first floor guest room and brought down her things. I picked flowers from the yard for a vase near her bed. And I waited.

2020 feels like one long wait to me. Wait for the grief to subside. Wait for the disease to come. Wait for the disease to go away. Wait to be sick. Wait to do normal things again. Wait for my dog to die. Wait to not feel sad and scared. We’re all just waiting, right?

So, yesterday I stewed squash and picked flowers. The rest of the time I’m just sending emails, doing yard work, going on long walks, reading more books, but it all just feels like biding my time. When what I really want to do is go somewhere and do something.

In the Bible there are 141 references to waiting—I looked it up. In Isaiah it says that God will renew our strength as we wait in Him. In Lamentations it says that the Lord is good to those who wait for Him. And in Romans it says—and I really feel this one—”we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” It makes me think there is something holy in waiting if you do it right.

Eventually, they called and I went to pick my mom up. It wasn’t pretty or glorious, but she’s ok and I’m so grateful. Now, it will be a long recovery ahead with, of course, more waiting. But I’m working on feeling some peace and patience in that—and learning that some days that’s not so hard and other days you just bake squash casserole.

I love a good icy summer cocktail, and this one is one of my favorites for this time of year when it’s prime season for peaches and mint around the Carolinas.

I don’t really have a name for it. I’ve considered “Peach Better Have My Mint” or “You Wanna Peach of Me.” Or, for a more of-the-minute name, “Im-Peach Him.”

Anyway, here’s the easy recipe if you’d like to make your own. And if drinking it gives you some better name inspiration, please send it my way!

  • 2-3 ounces of Bird Dog Peach Whiskey (depends on how strong you want it)
  • One 6.8-ounce bottle of Fever-Tree Ginger Beer
  • One tablespoon of mint simple syrup*
  • Pour over ice in copper mugs, stir, add sprig of mint to garnish

*  I make my own mint simple syrup by bringing equal parts sugar and water with mint leaves to a boil and then letting it steep, straining it, and letting it cool. But you can also buy mint simple syrup that’s pretty good too.

I’ve been thinking lately about things that I miss—due to Covid—that I never could have imagined missing. Like, there’s the obvious stuff, right? You miss travel and nights out with friends and worry-free hugs. And because I’ve been pretty extreme in my social distancing, I also miss simple things like car rides with friends or saying “yes, you can take my drink order and, as a matter of fact, we would like a starter.”

But I have some weird ones too. I miss the smell of other people’s perfume or cologne. When I’m on a walk in my neighborhood and someone passes me and I can smell the scent of some fragrance, I look like a mix between a hound dog sniffing the air and a creepy serial killer longingly taking a deep breath of another human.

I had no idea how much I enjoyed being a room where people smelled like expensive perfume. 2020 is teaching me so much.

I miss other things that are probably more normal, but the level of intensity of how much I miss them may not be entirely normal. Like, I am dreaming of the day I can be in restaurant and order 8,000 refills of a fountain Diet Coke. And I would probably give a kidney to be able to feel like I could safely get a massage.

Tonight though, I was on a walk in my neighborhood and I suddenly heard the sound of a group of people cheering somewhere. It was just a brief cheer, but the amount of nostalgia that sound evoked felt like getting the breath knocked out of me. People. Together. Happy. I’ve probably heard it a thousand times before walking around my neighborhood—over summer cookouts and during NFL season and, of course, during March Madness. But I didn’t even realize I’d missed it until I heard it tonight.

These are the things I don’t think I’ll take for granted in the future—or, at least I hope not. (Don’t worry, if I’m in a crowded room and thinking “Man, I’m so happy to smell all these people,” I probably won’t say it out loud.)

So, what do you miss that you could have never predicted?

In the end you think of the beginning.

I learned yesterday that my dog, Pawley, has cancer. And as I sat in my hot car, listening to the vet use medical terms to describe the thing that will take away something I love, I wasn’t thinking about the disease. I was thinking about the day Pawley came home with me nine years ago. The way her bright white paws had looked so tiny in my hands.

When my dog Rosie died last year, she’d been very sick for several weeks before the end. And so at night, while I scratched her ears beside me in bed, I’d tell her stories of when she was a puppy. “Do you remember the first time you saw the ocean? The way you rushed in before you realized the waves were taller than you?”

In the days after I learned that Michiel died, I didn’t think of the thousands of conversations we’d had in recent weeks and months. I thought of our first day together. How it had been the summer solstice in Seattle and twilight had lingered until almost midnight. Like God stretched out time just for us—a gift for two friends whose time together would ultimately be cut too short.

When I texted a friend yesterday to tell her about Pawley, she responded “that is too much.” And that seemed about right. It is too much, isn’t it? From illness and poverty to racism and loss, there is so much in our world right now that is just too much.

I think it’s why my mind returns to beginnings. The present is too much. And those early moments are so good and pure because you can’t even imagine the heartbreak of ends like these.

So, that’s where I am now. Living in the too much and loving Pawley in the right now, but thinking of happy beginnings with tiny paws and a whole lifetime ahead.

Summer Reading List

If you’re like me, the combination of social distancing and summertime means you’re doing some extra reading. With this in mind, I’ve shared a few of my top recent picks below.

Before I get to those though, I did want to mention a few others: If you’re looking for easy, lazy beach reads, Emily Giffin’s The Lies That Bind can be finished in a few delicious hours and Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer is fun and happy.

There are several books on the current bestseller list that I’d skip—namely Elin Hilderbrands’s 28 Summers (no thanks on a depressing read about a decades-long affair) and James Patterson’s The Summer House, which is not really by James Patterson and it shows.

(Sidenote: What’s with all the books with summer in their title this summer?) Anyway, on to my recent favorites list.

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American Dirt

There’s a lot of controversy around this book primarily because there are some who claim that the author is capitalizing on immigrant trauma. I think it’s important to be aware of this before reading this novel. But I also thought this was the best book I’d read in a long, long time. It’s a gut wrenching story that’s beautifully written and a serious page-turner. I also think it brings much-needed attention to an important topic. Does it do it in a dramatic Hollywood-esque fashion? Sure. But if that’s what it takes to humanize Latin American migrants for white Americans—and, ideally, lead to a more compassionate approach to our borders—then I stand by saying I really liked this book.

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Big Lies in a Small Town

I always love books that shift between the past and present day. (If you also enjoy this, I strongly recommend everything Kate Morton has ever written.) This book moves between 1940 and 2018 in a small North Carolina town. It’s a cool storyline about a part of history I knew nothing about—post office murals as part of the WPA after the Depression. It has fun plot twists and turns, but it’s the memorable characters that make this story.

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The Night Tiger

It took me awhile to get into this one. There are a few different storylines that weave into each other, and I was several chapters in before I really understood the characters. I ultimately loved it though. It’s the story of Ji Lin, who secretly works in a dance hall and Ren, a young houseboy in search of a severed finger—and, of course, a deadly tiger. It takes place in the 1930s in Malaysia and creates really beautiful images of lush jungles and whimsical dreams.

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Pretty Things

I really thought this book would be a fun, easy read to lump in with other summer chick lit. But this one has stuck in my head and it’s entirely because of the setting. A large portion of the book is set in an old mansion on the banks of Lake Tahoe, and the author does such a good job of painting the picture of that place that I half feel like I took a trip to Lake Tahoe this summer. (Side note: This is one of several books I’ve recently read where a main character is an Instagram influencer. Is this a trend now?)

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Hideaway

I realize that no one would call Nora Roberts sophisticated literary fiction, but this book was really fun. Like, if a book could be warm tortilla chips, fresh guacamole, and an icy margarita by the pool, this was it. Sometimes Roberts can get pretty cheesy and too romantic for me, but this didn’t feel that way. It checks all her usual boxes—happy and wealthy family, beautiful people, mild intrigue, gorgeous setting, and a wholesome story. It’s the light and fluffy kind of thing we all need in 2020.