Everything Continues

I’ve been avoiding this. I haven’t wanted to connect the dots of grief right now. It’s been said that we’re all going through varying stages of grief globally as we deal with this pandemic.

I haven’t wanted to think about how this is building and happening now, in spring. As nature mocks us humans, as everything blooms and continues to thrive in spite of us. Despite our pain, our illness, our slow down.

I haven’t wanted to recall another spring, eight years ago.

The March when my dad was in the hospital for two weeks, fighting for his life in ICU post-surgery. Then, like now, I rejoiced in the cherry blossoms, at the world in bloom-as my world contracted-and the cruel, mocking splendor of springtime when you’re drowning in fear, swallowed by something you don’t quite recognize yet as grief, and fighting every day to keep your head above water.

To call this time and how I’m drawing parallels to the spring of 2012 weird would be an understatement. It’s uncomfortable. It threatens to burst a dam inside me because now, like then, all I can think about is:

What can I do for someone else?

How can I bring comfort?

How can I help? 

How can I push this fear and uncertainty away from me, and in doing so, stabilize myself?

What is stable? 

What is normal?

What is comfort?

What is, what is, what is?

Endless questions and painful answers. Hard roads and miles to walk. Discomfort and transformation and pain. Fear, disbelief, anger, loss, and overwhelm.

But also beauty and joy and gratitude. And change and growth and learning and strength.

Using the gift of time and hindsight, looking back at the eight years since my dad’s passing, I can find the positive easily now. I learned so much about myself after his death.

Losing him was my first dance with intense grief and it taught me what I don’t want to take for granted, who I value, it made me appreciate certain qualities within myself and the amazing, nurturing man who raised me. An unconventional father who taught me to cook, but also how to defend myself, who made me learn how to do seemingly random things “so I’d know how to do them” giving me the incredible gift of independence. He also showed me what it means to be a nurturer and a caretaker, both qualities I struggled to accept in myself for a long time. He told me being an adult meant seeing something that needed to be done and just doing it, without being asked.

Finding the wisdom and the ways his death impacted me in a good way is only something that happened with time.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll learn from the spring of 2020 and this worldwide heavy time, and, let’s say it, period of grief. The one thing that has stuck out to me immediately is that the people in my circle-friends and family-mean more to me than I realized.

I can’t wait to freely give hugs again, to look into my friends’ eyes (not via a video chat!) and ask about their lives, to share laughs and high-fives because this fire forged us into something so much strong coming out than when we went in.

I Made the Top Ten…and Other Recent Freelance

It’s been a while since I shared my recent freelance articles so I thought now would be a great time to post an update. Recently I had the great honor of penning two of the top 10 articles of 2019 for South Sound Talk.

Beyond being excited that my articles are resonating with readers, I’ve enjoyed some of the things I’ve written about lately.

A latte in a coffeeshop window with fall leaves

From a list of places to have fun indoors during the winter, to the best places to sip coffee in Tacoma. I’ve also had a great time sharing the stories of several amazing people. Two intriguing features were on an artist and entrepreneur who creates mementos for loved ones who’ve passed away and an amazing tale of a survivor.

I also got into that New Year’s resolution mindset and helped readers find the best places to find healthy groceries and healthy restaurants in South Sound, and where they can donate  their time or money to make a difference.

The next few months will be full of more fun articles, business features, profiles, and community spotlights. I’ll be sure to share those articles closer to summer.

Hockey: The Great Unifier?

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile then you might remember this post from a little over a year ago when I recapped our first ever stay in Vancouver, BC. About two weeks ago we went back for an extended weekend. 

The first trip was about exploring and this second jaunt to Vancouver was all about leisure. Specifically, hockey.

My husband and I are big St. Louis Blues fans and when we saw they were playing a game in Vancouver, we immediately bought tickets. What made the timing of this particular trip even sweeter was that we arrived in Vancouver on the night of the NHL All Star game and two of our friends from Washington who are also St. Louis transplants were in town for the Canucks-Blues game as well.

We all went into the sports bar where we’d agreed to watch the game with an expectation that this was going to be a loud, rambunctious night. We were watching the All Star game in Canada, after all. To our confusion and to the frustration of the other people in the bar, the four of us seemed to be the only ones who gave a flip about the game being played on the TV.

What the heck? This was Canada, right? Had we stepped into some parallel universe?

After that evening we weren’t sure what to expect at the game the following Monday night. Although St. Louis lost, it was a great game, but I’ve never had an experience quite like that before. Hockey in Canada is intense. And fast-paced. And fun! 

But between the sports bar and the actual game we snuck in a few non-hockey related activities. We walked a significant portion of the 28 kilometer Stanley Park seawall, hit Granville Island, ate lots of yummy food, and spent some time relaxing.

No matter what part of the city we visited, a peculiar phenomenon happened every time we were out. Usually people avoid communicating with strangers, myself included, but something funny happened in Vancouver.

What was odd this trip was that our Blues gear was a big welcome sign. We met so many other Blues fans and seeing each other throughout the city was like recognizing that we’d found a friend, or at the very least, someone like us.

Our team gear wasn’t just a way to talk to other Blues fans. It was a great conversation starter with locals, too. No matter where we went, be it a bar, restaurant, a local shop, the park or on the Amtrak, someone had something to say to us. 

The experience made me wonder if we were all a little more open to conversations with strangers, if we were just a bit more willing to show interest in each other, if we’d find out that there are friends to be found in every city, town, and country we visit.

My Favorite Podcasts of 2019

In 2018 I got really into podcasts. Back then, it started as something I could listen to during my then day job. Most of the podcasts were in the personal development arena because 2018 was definitely a year of change and growth for me.

In the year and a half or so since I started listening to podcasts, my interests have widened and I listen to things from personal development to pop culture.

A cup of eggnog, a cellphone with a podcast app open, red candles on a table.

Here are the top five podcasts I either discovered this year or found the most useful:

  1. Rise by Rachel Hollis-With her mission to give women the tools to change their life, the Rise podcast fulfills this through interviews with top entrepreneurs, writers, people in business, and pep talks from the queen motivator herself, Rachel Hollis.
  2. On Purpose with Jay Shetty-A former monk who is best known for making wisdom go viral, Jay Shetty interviews celebrities, authors, and inspiring people in the mental health/personal growth space.
  3. Dolly Parton’s America-Fair warning Jolene will play on a nonstop loop inside your hear for at least 24 hours after you listen to a certain episode. But this podcast dives into the diverse Dolly fanbase, explores themes of domestic violence and misogyny inherent in Dolly’s early songs, and of course talks about her Tennessee upbringing.
  4. Smart Podcast Trashy Books-A podcast brought to you by the women behind the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site, the podcast is still a smart look at all things Romancelandia, with the snarky tone long time fans of the website know and love.
  5. Marketing School-This short form daily podcast gives you quick, high level tips on the latest marketing news and practices. Episodes are all under 10 minutes long and full of practical, tactical methods, and is hosted by two marketing professionals, each with a slightly different take on the industry.

I LOVE listening to podcasts. What are some other ones I should check out in 2020? Leave me a comment below, or give me a shout on social media.

The Long, Dark Night

Today is the Winter Solstice. Whether you practice any beliefs or hold ceremonies around the Solstice or simply acknowledge that this is the longest night of the year, I am coming to believe you can find a certain kind of magic in the darkness.

I never thought much about the Solstice until I moved to the Pacific Northwest. I now realize that was probably by my parents’ design, as I grew up Evangelical Christian and when the Solstice came around, it was always something that got swept under the rug.

Evergreen trees in the fog

Here in the PNW, it’s (perhaps unofficially) recognized as a day of change, of movement back toward the light. It’s a day of celebration of sorts as we acknowledge that we have made it through the longest, darkest periods of the season.

Light is a treasured thing here. With nine or so months of rain and cloud cover, Pacific Northwesterners can get a bit particular about the light. During the height of winter we have less than eight hours of daylight, and most homes have big picture windows, to allow in the most natural light as possible.

But back to the Solstice.

This year I found more significance in the day than I ever have before. And I think it’s because I just came out of a period of personal solstice. After a very long time of self doubt and self improvement, of looking for career opportunities, of having the desire to write, but feeling plagued by insecurity and uncertainty, I am finally out of my creative long, dark night.

Now that I have left that period, I realize there are good things that can be found in the dark. It’s an opportunity to look inward, it’s a chance to be still. A place to pause and reflect. The dark isn’t a place to avoid or ignore, it has a purpose, and it has an end point. While you can plant seeds in the dark, they typically can’t grow and flourish without the light.

It feels especially comforting and inspiring to be in this place of leaning toward the light as we head into a new decade. I am anticipating what the coming period of longer days will bring, espically since I have recently made peace with the darkness.

If you’re going through a personal, creative, or professional period of darkness, just know there can be good things that come from it, even if it feels impossible to see now. And remember that the light will always return.

Recent Travel: Fulfilling Dreams and Adventures

If you’re familiar with my blog then you know how much I love to travel. And in 2019 I took a couple trips and made so many memories. My two most recent trips are quite different in the topography and location, as well as time of year when we traveled. We visited Alaska for the first time and returned to the Washington Coast, which is one of our favorite places to visit.

The Last Frontier

Over the summer we went on an Alaskan cruise. A trip to The Frontier State has been on my bucket list forever, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I went to Alaska looking for the wilderness. I wanted to touch a piece of that roughness, the unexplored, the wildness. Traveling there has been on my wish list for years. I can’t even remember when the curiosity about Alaska began.

Was it when I got hooked on the loosely-based-on-reality-tv show Yukon Men, about men and their families and how they survive in the Alaskan bush country of Tanana?

No, it might’ve been before that. Back when I’d heard of Christopher McCandless and his deadly solo trek into the wilderness when the book Into the Wild hit peak popularity in 2007 when I was a cashier at Borders?

Was it before that? In childhood when I watched the movie adaptation of Jack London’s  classic White Fang?

All I can say for certain is that before our trip I checked out as many books on Alaska as I could. I read fiction about a family trying to make it in the Alaskan bush. I read non-fiction about the countless people who’ve gone to Alaska for short expeditions, and to stay. These people went there to find themselves, to prove something, to capture that untamed essence that exists only in Alaska. Those people went in the hopes that they could bring the smallest piece of that back when they returned home.

Thinking of these stories of the people who’d gone before me and the countless others whose stories I don’t know, I wondered about my own quest.

Was it to create stillness inside myself? To reach into the deepest part of me and find untapped reserves of grit? Was it just a journey of self-discovery? We visited Alaska just before my fortieth birthday and I do think there was an aspect of looking inside myself that happened on that trip.

There were little bits of it throughout the trip, but the crux of the experience happened when I was standing at the back of the boat when we sailed through a fjord leaving Skagway. That was the epitome of what I hoped to experience in Alaska.

As I stood there, I was in awe. It was after sunset (nearing 10 p.m.) yet the ambient light made it appear like it was afternoon. And everything that I’d read about Alaska, everything I’d ever heard, the myth and majesty of the place, was distilled in that moment.

The air was fresh and had a sort of softness to it against my skin that I can’t fully describe. There was quiet. So much quiet. There was a stillness that seemed unreal, given the time and place where I was: on a massive cruise ship, living in the era of electronic devices and 24/7 connection. There were no other ships around in the fjord, there was just this immense solitude. As we sailed through the fjord, enveloped by scenery so large and dramatic that it absorbed any sound, I turned my attention to the back of the boat.

One lone seagull flew in our wake. It hovered there, above the water, until a second joined, then a third, and soon there were roughly twenty of the birds. As I watched them swooping, and moving full of grace, tears formed in my eyes. They brought me so much peace, just to watch them and knowing there were no other demands on my time, no other distractions. For that moment, I was as free as they were. For that blip in time, I was flying, too.

The Washington Coast

Thanksgiving weekend is typically a time where we pick a destination within a few hours travelling distance of us and spend a long weekend there. My husband worked retail for years and spent too many holidays working Thanksgiving day and Black Friday. Our yearly trips are a form of gratitude that our lives have changed for the better, along with a celebration that neither of us have to work holidays anymore.

This Thanksgiving we drove to the coast and spent four nights in Long Beach, WA. This small town is on a peninsula and touts itself as the “World’s Longest Beach.” Being that it’s on the southern tip of Washington, we took a day trip into Oregon, via the Astoria-Megler Bridge and spent a few hours discovering the craft breweries in Astoria, OR.

Of course, I wish we could have spent more time in Astoria. This cute, quaint town is full of history and can boast many blockbuster movies having been filmed there, including The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop.

And not surprisingly writing inspiration struck during both of my trips. I dreamed up story ideas focused on the Klondike Gold Rush and another about a shipwreck off the dangerous coast near Ilwaco, WA. We’ll see if one, or both, ideas pan out into actual books. For now, I’m looking forward to our next adventure, when we return to Vancouver, BC next month and the experiences we’ll have, of course, and what travel writing stories that trip might inspire.

Your Guide to Supporting South Sound Small Businesses This Holiday Season

With Thanksgiving happening this week, we’ve officially entered the holiday shopping season. This year I thought it would be nice to provide a guide to various businesses you can support throughout the South Sound.

Of course there’s already the national campaign to encourage consumers to “shop small” on the day after Black Friday, and while that’s great, I wanted to write something to help people think beyond Small Business Saturday.

If you’re looking for unique gifts, be it clothing, items made in Washington, upcycled items, or gifts that are artsy, check out this list of boutiques around Pierce County that offer amazing selections.

Maybe you’ve shopped til you drop and you’re looking to be entertained or just unwind? Tacoma’s entertainment and nightlife options are plentiful, from escape rooms, to bookstores,  adult gaming spots, a free museum, or quirky bars, and cozy breweries, Grit City has you covered.

Tiramisu cake and a latte from Corina Bakery.

All that shopping and entertainment is bound to make you hungry (and ready for a cup of something hot). Whether you’ve got a sweet tooth, want a bowl of something warm, like eating healthy, flavorful foods, are craving a European specialty, or a slice of authentic New York style pizza, Tacoma has it all. If you’re needing a caffeine fix, or just a cup to warm you up, there’s so many great options for coffee.

And, let’s not kid ourselves here. It’s the holidays, and this time of year is stressful. While you’re preparing to make this season magical for family and friends, don’t forget to create a little magic for yourself. Hit up a spa for a massage, a skin treatment, or to get your nails done.

Whatever you get up to this holiday season, in whatever corner of the world you reside, I hope you’ll find a way to support a small business or two.