Never Say Never

Last week, I did the thing I said I’d never do. I went to MOPS.

That’s the funny thing about desperation. You’ll do anything.

For the last few months, I’ve been fighting many aspects of being a mom. I don’t want to be reminded that I’m a mom. I’m reminded everyday my toddler wakes me up at 6:30AM and yells at me when she doesn’t get to eat cookies all day. I had this idea of mom groups that involved cheesy crafts and forced conversations and only having in common the fact that we are all moms. I just want to hang out with women, who also happen to be mothers, and do things we’d normally do. So like, a mom’s group? No like a group that happens to be made up of moms. So, a mom’s group.

This is one of the reasons I felt like I was in a prison in Orange County. A stay-at-home suburban prison where hell looks like one eternal park date and awkward interactions with moms at the park. “How old is she?” “Oh so sweet.” “Is that your first?” “Oh I’m so tired. Mom life, you know?!”

I knew that when we moved back to San Diego, life would look different than it did a year ago. I used to work full-time, but now I would be continuing the stay-at-home gig. Our entire community had done major shifting while we were gone (and so did we). Everyone was at a new church. Many of them had new jobs, new babies. Many had relocated. I had to make a decision to not fall back into how life looked a year ago. I recently received an invitation to the MOPS group that meets at the new church we’re attending and I felt this nudging to check it out. As an introvert, trying new things without a wing woman isn’t my favorite thing to do.

Earlier this year while we were still in OC, I signed up for a membership class that’s required for staff and their spouses to take. I signed up alone because everyone else had taken it and figured it would be easy to sneak in and sneak out while remaining anonymous and avoiding awkward interactions. This church is huge, so there would be a ton of people in this class. I showed up to the home it was taking place in right on time. The entry way was adorned with name tags and binders; the table was filled with a spread of food I was trying to avoid eating; 3 host volunteers and a volunteer photographer were positioned to welcome guests and take photos for promotion; the campus pastor arrived ready to teach his attentive members. And then the truth set in. I was the only. one. coming. EVERYONE else bailed. I got a personal lesson on the history of the church and becoming a member. Had a spread of food to myself and got too much attention. Needless to say, it was an introverts nightmare. I don’t like doing new things alone.

But last week, I went to MOPS and second guessed myself the entire way there. Who will be there? Will I be the only one? Who will I talk to? Do I wait for someone to talk to me? Please let there be someone my age. And guess what? I showed up, and I was blessed. There were women who I could look up to and women I could be friends with. There were women who were tired, and women who could assure us we’d survive. The speaker reminded us that sometimes motherhood makes us feel like we have lost our fire, but we can take the fire and instill it in our kids. I got two hours without a toddler needing my attention. You guys, MOPS is my Friday respite.

I guess what I’m saying is never say never. Some things deserve a chance and God can still work wonders through even the cheesiest of mom groups. Being a mother takes hard work. And let’s be honest, our society isn’t set up to really help moms succeed: so many young moms aren’t living in neighborhoods where families get together and children play in the streets; we aren’t living in actual villages where mothers are cooking together, washing clothes together, watching their children gather sticks in the fields. We are isolated behind our phones, comparing ourselves to each other and women we don’t even know, crammed together in condominiums with nowhere for our kids to run free (and get out of our hair).

Motherhood has always been hard work, but I believe it takes even more effort to step outside of our comfort zones and create our village. And not just create a village, but cultivate the village and create a thriving community where families feel loved, seen, heard, welcome. Never say never, because you never know when and where your village will show up.

Blessed are the mothers

A friend (hey J Penn!) recently shared an honest post about how she is struggling with resentment toward her new son because of the change he has imposed on her marriage. I love when women have the courage to speak truth because you can guarantee someone else is, or has felt, the same way. It reminded me of a concept I’ve been wrestling through over the last few months in regards to mourning and waiting in motherhood and I wanted to share.

I had never thought about it much because I figured it was a terrible thing to do. Of course I love my girls. Of course I love being a mother. But sharing that we miss what life looked like when we had more freedom, that seems just wrong. But it’s real. It doesn’t diminish our love for parenthood, but those years when we could sleep till 9, go to dinner without crayons being thrown everywhere, or hang out with friends spontaneously are gone (for now). But of course there will be a day where the children are out of the house, and we can do all these things again and we will mourn our current season. Life is funny that way.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted - Jesus tells us in Matthew. Mothers, we are blessed. It is possible for us to both love our children, and mourn our days of freedom. In our mourning, Jesus promises that we will be comforted. And I really believe it’s important for moms to be honest and transparent with these struggles because God uses community to encourage and strengthen us.

There are countless verses in the Bible about waiting and patience, which is truly not my strong suit. When I think back on my life before Brighton I wonder what on Earth I did with my time and why I didn’t use it better because now I can think of so many things I would be doing. I have always been someone who has felt passionate about many things, but one thing for certain is reading and writer. I know God has called me to be a writer, even if I may not know how those details will play out. But right now, my first calling is as a mother. And so, I wait. I wait for the appointed time. In just a few years, the girls will be in school and my days will be freed up to write to my hearts desire, but for now I wait and I focus on my current task at hand, which is hopefully giving me a lot of content and wisdom to write about later.

A devotional I read by Sharon Hodde Miller in a study of Joshua put it so perfectly and I wanted to just share the direct quote because I couldn’t have written it better:

“Between school and marriage and parenting, my attention was pulled in a lot of directions, and it wasn’t long before writing got put on the back burner. All the while, I watched as my writing friends achieved their own goals. One by one, they grew their ministries and published books, while I was lucky to steal an hour tow rite. My friends had reached the promised land, while I remained just outside it.

Waiting is always hard, but it is made especially difficult by comparison. When your friends or colleagues attain the thing you want, it’s tough to hold on to contentment. The ache is somehow heightened by the sight of another’s success.

Joshua waited a lot, and I wonder how the story might have been different had he been guided by impatience. I wonder how his leadership might have been compromised had his spirit been discontent. Thankfully, Joshua succumbed to neither. He was man who waited well. Rather than pine for the life he wanted, Joshua made himself available to the will of God. His waiting was both active and fruitful.”

God always comes through. By trusting God’s timing, we accomplish a lot in the waiting.

Like Sharon, I’m lucky if I can find an hour to write. And I mourn the days where I could read at coffee shops and write to my hearts desire. But I know that God isn’t wasting the time I have now. Maybe you are waiting for a date night. Maybe you are waiting for new inspiration and vision. Maybe you are waiting for your toddler to quit being a cussword or for more than 3 hours of sleep again. Don’t waste your waiting and don’t ignore your mourning. Call out to God and be honest with your frustration because He meets us where we are at and reminds us that He is good and He is faithful to fulfill His promises. When He places vision in our hearts, He will guide us to our promised land in the right time and he will comfort us through it all.

Currently Reading....

This year I made it my goal to read more, which seems ridiculous given the fact that I love reading. But with Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, my brain has been wasting away at the mercy of PBC Masterpiece Classics and Bachelor in Paradise. 

I have crossed off so many books off my list already and I always have the most difficult time choosing where to begin next. I thought I'd share a few of my recent and current reads for those of you who are looking for your next novel escape.

1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Let me be honest and say I am always very apprehensive to try new authors when it comes to fiction. If I'm not sold within a chapter or two, I have a pretty hard time committing to the rest of the book and I know I tend to like the classics like Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. So every year when the NY Times Bestseller list comes out, I almost never read what's on it because I judge every book by its cover and whether or not I know the author. Terrible I know. But this one finally got me. Some of my personal favorite authors have been raving about it, so I gave it a try and it was indeed, great. 

It chronicles a story of an African-American couple in the south and the husband has been accused of a crime he didn't commit. It really gave me insight into the African-American community and some of the struggles they deal with. I would highly recommend reading this book as a way to expand your horizons. Books are such a fantastic way to put ourselves in other people's shoes and gain perspective that we might not otherwise have had. 

2. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

I am way late to the Anne of Green Gables game, I know. But I am in love. If I see a show or movie coming out that is based off a book, I love to read the book first when possible. So when Netflix came out with "Anne with an E" I grabbed the books and I'm hooked. While someone might watch the show and be annoyed with Anne's dramatic flair and vernacular, having read the books I have an appreciation for it. These coming of age novels are so endearing to me. So, book two in the Anne series continued to fulfill my expectations of something light, cheerful, whimsical, and youthful (without all the vampire trash).

3. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

I was so excited to start this book because as I mentioned before, I love the old classic novelists and I am fascinated by European History and the Great War. This book has taken me longer to get through and not because I didn't enjoy it but because I was having a hard time following it. It may have been the timing of when I read it, but it has been a great story none the less. If you enjoy classics, this one is always worth adding to your list.

4. Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Read this. Read Brené. Read all of Brené. I was listening to Oprah's Super Soul Sunday podcast and she did an interview with Brené regarding this book and I knew I had to read it. Brené is a social psychologist who specializes in shame and guilt. Her work is extraordinary. It's relatable and practical and I have read this feeling like I know more about myself AND I can make better choices emotionally. I would call that a win. I'm really taking my time through this one because I want to soak in everything she has to say. 

So, in honor of National Book Reading day, I hope these 4 books give you some ideas for your next read! What are you reading right now? 

Next up on my list: 

  • Wrinkle in Time series 
  • Harry Potter (again, round 3)
  • Catcher in the Rye 

5 things saving my life...

Whether you are a mom or not, most of the women I know are busy. Jobs, husbands, school, family events ... the list goes on. As a stay-at-home mom/freelance writer I find myself constantly in between feeling busy and exhausted from monotony. Staying at home with a toddler is exhausting in a way I have never known. Full time work? Piece of cake. School? I wish I could go back. Little child needed constant attention, care, and climbing all over you all day? I need a nap. 

I love hearing from other women what they do to keep their lives a little saner, so I thought I'd share a few things that are "saving" my life right now. Since I'm all about simple living, most of these things are just that: simple. Because I don't have time or money for weekly massages or spa days, I find that creating space for simple joys can make all the difference in a day. 

1. Chocolate covered almonds. 

I told you. Simple. This preggo wants dessert all the time and in the effort of having self- control, I took to my local Sprouts to provide a chocolately treat that feels healthy and can be consumed in small portions to last forever. Let's be real, sometimes fully depriving ourselves of the thing we want isn't always the best solution. Everything in moderation friends. 

2. A night-time routine. 

Now that I'm 30, I figured it was time to get serious about my face. I've been super fortunate to have great skin most of my life, and I'd like to keep it that way. I started investing in products that were all-natural (or making them myself) and committing to making effort each morning and night to take a few minutes for my face. I am never going to be the person that has a 10 step routine. Like I said before, I don't have time or money for that. So I chose just a few things that could make me feel like I'm treating myself and winding down for the day. 

I love UltraViolet's products. She is not cheap, but it's been a splurge for me and I've seen such great results. Marci creates all the products herself and she uses both science + her love for sensitive skin-friendly products to create very natural and gentle masterpieces. I use her cleanser and night masque. I have also heard incredible things about SW Basics which is significantly cheaper than UltraViolet if you are looking for a budget-friendly option. 

I also got a dry brush a few weeks ago. I honestly don't know if I believe anything that it's supposed to do, but at the very least it's a relaxing practice and it sort of starts of my evening "wind down". I never realized how much I would appreciate a steady nighttime routine!

3. My lottas. 

Lotta from Stockholm is one of the great clog brands I know. There are quite a few that make beautiful shoes, but Lotta is (I think) the most affordable considering the quality. These clogs are amazing because they are so comfortable and they make you feel like you put effort into a very casual outfit. But they also go great with something that's more trendy or dressy. All of this is a big plus when you're pregnant, a mother, or just generally a woman who is busy and doesn't always have time to put a perfect outfit together. I have three pairs and they are my go tos. 

4. A physical planner

When I was in school, planners were my favorite thing to buy. I loved choosing my new planner and writing in all the things I had to do from homework to hangout to reminders. My iPhone slowly took over my life and I never wanted to carry around my planner and phone, but over the last few months, I realized my need to actually write things down. There's science behind why writing things help you remember better and Lord knows between having a toddler and being pregnant, I need all the help I can get.

So now I can write down what I need to do for work and I can also attempt to schedule out my week with Brighton so I can have things to look forward to and not lose my mind! My favorite is Moleskine (of course) because it's so simple, small, and has a lot of room for writing notes/lists (oh how I love lists).

5. CloudLibrary 

Do you know about this? It's an app you can download on your phone or iPad and it will connect with your account to your local library. Before I moved, I got my library card for the San Diego Public Library and linked it to my CloudLibrary and now I have access to digital and audio books from their entire database! I will ALWAYS prefer a physical paper book, but since I've had so many books on my reading list this year, CloudLibrary has saved me (and my wallet). 

So there you have it. 5 things saving my life right now. What about you? What are some of the things you are doing that are making your days a little extra special?

 

Ciambella

First of all, if you tell me there is a cake that is acceptable to eat for breakfast, I will be all about it. Normally I'm not a big cake person. I think it's because I don't love frosting. But Italians just do cakes right. 

Ciambella is an Italian bundt cake that is perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, midnight and any other time you can think of. It also happens to be light, melt in your mouth, and lemony which is great for summer. 

Baking for me will always be a love affair. It reminds me of my Nonna and it's my "go to" therapy when I'm feeling blue or stressed or pregnant. *shoulder shrug* The problem with my love for baking is I really need other people to eat the results because I also have major dessert guilt. So, come on over friends, these treats won't eat themselves. 

INGREDIENTS

Cake:

  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons fine sea or table salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of half an orange
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (325 ml) grapeseed oil 
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (about 185 grams) plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20 ml) vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups (390 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • About 3 tablespoons (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice

Make cake: Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and coat with granulated sugar. Knock out any excess sugar from pan.

Place sugar and salt in a large bowl and use your fingertips to rub the zest into it to release the most flavor. Whisk in oil, mascarpone, yogurt, and then eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add baking powder and whisk thoroughly into the batter. Add flour and use a rubber spatula to stir just until batter is smooth.

Drop batter equally around your cake mold, then smooth, and drop on the counter a few times to ensure there are no trapped air bubbles. Bake for about 40 minutes checking in at the 30-minute mark to rotate the pan for even coloring. The cake is done when a toothpick or tester comes out batter-free. 

While the cake bakes, make the glaze: Whisk sugar and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice together until smooth, adding the last tablespoon of juice just if needed. This glaze should be thicker than normal. 

When cake is done, let it rest on a cooling rack for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove it from the pan while it's still hot. Brush or drizzle glaze evenly over the top of the cake, and sides if you wish and it will set as it cools.

Enjoy enjoy enjoy. 

Strong and Courageous

One of the verses I’m constantly repeating to myself is Joshua 1:9 - Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. It's one of the few verses I know by memory because my anxiety has caused me to repeat it often. 

I recently started going through a She Reads Truth study of Joshua because I wanted to understand why God kept telling him to not be afraid or discouraged. It feels easy to repeat this verse and remind myself to be strong and courageous and not afraid or discouraged, but why shouldn't I be when the world around me feels like an unreliable, unstable, unknown mess. I figured it was time to understand why this guy Joshua needed this reminder like I do.

This pregnancy has been rough on me emotionally. With Brighton, I felt so balanced, so joyful, so calm and at peace. With this pregnancy, I have been feeling so numb and depressed. It's been a huge battle for me because as a believer it's easy for us to say things like "the joy of the Lord is our strength" and "there's always hope" etc...but I have been struggling to get myself out of this proverbial pit. I have good days, I have bad days. I struggle to fully enjoy my time with Brighton, knowing a little sister is on the way. I struggle to enjoy the time I get alone with Jon, preoccupied with all the "to dos" and "what ifs". 

In Joshua, we are reminded that God is with us WHEREVER we go. The Israelites wandered the desert for years, some of them not able to live to see the day that God fulfilled His promise. When Joshua was appointed to finish what Moses had begun, I can only imagine the fear and uncertainty that overcame him. So much so, that within the first chapter and not even 10 verses into his story, God has to tell him to not be afraid or discouraged, because "I'm here and I'm not going anywhere."

God's instructions were clear, but He never mapped out the entire plan for Joshua and the Israelites. He gave them just the right amount of information they would need to get through the task in front of them. But one thing remained the same, they were to fix their eyes on the arc of the covenant (a symbol of the presence of the Lord). It's a reminder to me too to keep my eyes fixed in the right place, despite the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing, where I'm going, or what lies ahead. Wherever I am now and wherever I am going, God is here and already there. 

God was gracious to the Israelites and continued to be faithful to His promises. He delivers. He delivers on His word and He delivers us from slavery. It's a relief to know that even when I make mistakes or feel like I'm far away from God, that He will still be faithful to His promises to me. He can deliver me too.

Multiple times in Joshua's story, we see God telling him to be strong and courageous. Even this man who was chosen by God to lead the Israelites to their promised land had to be reminded by God Himself, that he was not alone on this journey. The God of the universe was walking Him step by step through conquering some of the most powerful kings and cities to bring the Israelites home. Isn't that amazing?

Right now, as I find myself feeling hopeless and discouraged, weak and unsure, God reminds me through Joshua's story to keep my eyes on Him and be strong and courageous because He is with me even here. 

An old Puritan prayer says this: "Herein is love; when I cannot rise to Him, He draws near on wings of grace to raise me to Himself."

Maybe you're currently feeling like me. Lost, uncertain, unsure, forgotten. Maybe you aren't, but chances are at some point in your life you might experience something that has you feeling anything but strong and courageous. While I don't have this all figured out, I do know this: God wants to draw near to us on those wings of grace and I am so grateful we don't have to have it all together for Him to love us and fulfill His promises. I need that reminder often. Maybe you do too. 

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I was listening to an interview Oprah did with Amy Schumer, and while I'm not usually a fan of her (Amy Schumer, not Oprah. BIG Oprah fan over here), I did gain a lot of respect for her perspective on how we should treat and love ourselves. Ironically, the same evening, I found myself scrutinizing a photo that I took of myself and Brighton at the beach. WRINKLES! All around my eyes! Where did those come from?! One eyebrow sits higher than the other when I smile too big. My mouth is crooked. My teeth, are those discolored? Moles I hate, dark circles under my eyes...

I am constantly criticizing how I look. My friends and I used to call our lower abs "marsie" which was short for "marsupial pouch" because we could never get those flat tummies that "pretty girls" had. And now, post-baby, even if marsie isn't flabby, she's never going to be flat. My chin looks weird in some photos, my butt too big and boobs too small. I'm just saying, we ALL do it. How many times do you have people retake photos because you don't look right? Right?

In her interview, Oprah quoted the poem above by Maya Angelou, and it made me wish I saw myself that way. That more women saw ourselves and each other that way.

How often do we scroll through Instagram and Facebook and find the latest "flat tummy" workout, guaranteed to get you looking like the girl in the photo? I recently saw one of those, and thought, I have got to get real with myself: I will NEVER look like that. My legs will never be that long and my hips have pushed a baby through them. I keep looking at the scale desperate to see the numbers 115 (in that order) again, but I haven't seen those numbers since freshman year. It's just not reality. 

Nobody likes to talk about their insecurities, so that's why I'm talking about it. Because we all deal with it. When you become a mother people say things like "your body is a miracle", "your body created a beautiful human", or while your pregnant they say "you're making a baby, of course you're going to look different, but it's amazing" - but then a stranger will say "woah, you ready to pop?" or "you sure there aren't two in there?" **major eye rolls** But still, every day we look in the mirror and see how we don't fit into our clothes the same way or we can't get our abs to look like they used to. We see the pregnant mommy bloggers who look better than us when we aren't pregnant and then bounce back like they never carried a child for 9 months. 

The body image battle is a silent war I've been raging for a long time. Throughout junior high and high school I danced and always felt like I was in great shape. In college, I studied abroad in Italy (hello pasta + wine) and came home unable to fit in any of my clothes. Today, I seem to have some unrealistic expectation that I should still look like my 8th-grade self. Check out this crazy fact: A 1999 study of Japanese women in their 20s provided a few clues. Subcutaneous (i.e. under-skin) fat disappears slowly from the cheeks, neck, boobs and lower legs, and begins to build up at the waist, the infragluteal region (underneath the butt), and on the abdomen. The researchers, looking at women at the end of their twenties compared to the beginning, found that weight had shifted around in three different patterns that were distinct from the ways that it was distributed around the body in the early 20s. <--- even science says I'll never look like I did in high school! So why are we still trying to?!

If you're like me and you've been critical of how you look, let's make a commitment together that enough is enough. That we should strive for health, not perfection (because can anyone actually define perfect anyway?). Dr. Caroline Leaf, in her book Switch on Your Brain, discusses how our brains can be rewired and how scripture lines up with what science tells us about the brain! She says, “Our choices—the natural consequences of our thoughts and imagination—get 'under the skin' of our DNA and can turn certain genes on and off, changing the structure of the neurons in our brains. So our thoughts, imagination, and choices can change the structure and function of our brains on every level.” In Romans 12:2, when the Bible says, "...be transformed by the renewing of your mind" science actually proves that we CAN do this by practicing different thought patterns. Sorry to get all nerdy on ya for a moment, but I just needed the reminder for myself that it IS possible to quit being so critical and start being grateful. 

What about you? Is this something you struggle with? What are some of the tools you use to kick those negative thoughts to the curb and embrace the body, the face, the wrinkles, the hair, the "you" that you are today?

Simply Being Me

how do I shake this envy

when I see you doing well

sister how do I love myself enough to know

your accomplishments are not my failures

- we are not each other's competition - rupi kaur

I desperately want to matter. Don't you? I believe that at our deepest cores, no matter our personality type, where we sit on the enneagram, whether we're introverted or extroverted, no matter our background, or where we're from, we desperately want to know that our lives have made a contribution to the world around us. 

I stumbled across Rupi Kaur's poem above as I was feeling a deep sadness and longing; feeling as though my life was less than inspiring and I wasn't good enough. I'm not a good enough mom, not a good enough wife, not a good enough friend, not a good enough writer. At night when my head touches the pillow, I wonder if I have it in me to do more, better. 

Ever since high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer. It's taken me a long time to discover my voice, and what I'm passionate about (I'm still discovering that), but I always knew that writing gave me life. I worked hard for many years to learn about the craft, to fine tune my journalism skills, and to find jobs where I would always be utilizing my love for words. I am defensive of my love of writing, defensive of the career I'm still working on, defensive of my ability to matter. At my core (holla at me 6s) I want to feel supported and approved by others. I want my skills to contribute to my community and I want to belong. When I'm not chosen I feel betrayed. I feel worthless and like I must not be good at what I'm doing. When others are chosen over me I wonder what I did wrong and I become competitive, trying to figure out how to position myself to get the next opportunity. I sound like a super fun friend right? Don't worry, I'm also faithful, cooperative, disciplined, grounded, self-expressive, witty, and affectionate. (According to The Enneagram Coach.) So ya, I have my days, but let's be real, we all do. 

Rupi's poem cuts straight to the core saying that another sister's success does not mean my failure. Another sister's opportunity does not mean my lack thereof. "How do I love myself enough to know you're accomplishments are not my failures?" I have been equating other's successes and opportunities to my failure and ultimately, deciding that I must not matter much. 

Recently I became a stay-at-home mom/freelance writer and the identity struggle is real. I went from a full-time job where I was interacting with adults and creating daily - to cleaning up food off the floor (a million times a day) and trying to keep my toddler from falling off the couch. I’m learning a new world of freelance writing and home/life balance that many of the peers in my circle aren’t experiencing because they are single or without kids. Their opportunities will naturally look different because their lives look different than mine. And I’m learning that’s ok. There is enough for everyone.

Simply being me looks like remembering that my identity is not in being a writer. My (and your) identity is not in a job, a spouse, kids, or economic status either. Simply being me looks like remembering that a rising tide lifts all boats. Life is more fulfilling when I celebrate others around me and continue to work hard staying true to my voice, my calling, my purpose, and not letting the successes or failures define who I am. Simply being me looks like knowing what I believe in, what I am passionate about, and not letting other people’s beliefs and passions determine what I should believe and be passionate about.

What is stopping you from simply being you? Who are you comparing yourself to? I recently heard one of the most practical steps on a podcast, where a writer shared that she unfollowed anyone on social media that she put on a pedestal or would compare herself to and feel negatively about herself. I know I could afford to do some purging in that area, do you? In what ways do you feel like you compromise who you are to fit in, or belong? Let this be an encouragement to you that you matter. Your life is important, and your gifts and passions will bring an important contribution to the world around you at the moment the fruit is ripe and sweet. Stay true to who you are and that in itself will be rewarded because authenticity is something I believe our world is craving. Get rid of the excess, the comparison, the competition, and simply be you. 

Food is Memories

Food is memories. 

Have you seen The Hundred-Foot Journey? It is one of my favorite movies. I can watch it over and over again and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. In the movie, the two main characters are eating by a creek in the French Countryside (yes, the movie is that dreamy) and Marguerite is sharing how certain food smells remind her of family, and Hassan replies, "Food is memories". I never forget that line because it sums up my life so perfectly. 

My dad was the first generation of his family born in America. His parents moved to New York from Sicily and eventually to Southern California because it reminded them of home. Nearly all of my memories with my Nonno and Nonna are in their kitchen or garden. Food really does have a way of taking you back to very specific moments. And for me, the majority of those memories are wrapped in Italian food. 

I was 15 the first time I went to Italy. My Nonno and Nonna wanted to take my family so we could meet our relatives and so they could show us all the places that meant so much to them. It was on that trip that I discovered my love for Stracciatella gelato. It's like a royal version of chocolate chip. Calling it chocolate chip just doesn't do it justice and I ate so much of it. It was on that trip that I tried wine for the first time. We went out to a restaurant and the waiters flipped over our glasses without checking ID's and started pouring the wine. My brother and I looked at each other, and then at my parents, wondering if someone was about to intervene. The legal drinking age is lower in Italy, and it's pretty widely accepted that teenagers will enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. We felt like bonafide adults. 

 Is there a more Italian photo than this?&nbsp;

Is there a more Italian photo than this? 

 

Towards the end of the trip, we spent time in Giuliana, Sicily, where we have cousins. One of our final nights there, our cousin invited us to meet her and her friends in the piazza. At 10PM. Still in culture shock, we couldn't believe that teenagers got together at 10PM AND that our parents were going to let us go into the piazza to meet a bunch of strangers. That is Italy for you. So, we go into the piazza and a group of Italian teenagers swarms around the Americans, testing out what little English they know and asking us if we want "una coca" (Coca Cola). So we order "una coca per favore" and a can of Coke with a straw is handed to us. Angelo, the attractive Italian teen (I think) with dark, wild, curly hair on a Vespa asks me if I want to take a ride. Obviously, yes. Let's remember, I was 15 and now I was 15 and in love. And so, despite that fact that none of us could say much more than "how old are you" and "what do you like", we sat in the piazza until midnight, drinking coke and eating gelato and life was a little slice of heaven. To this day, whenever I drink Coke (which is almost never), I'm back in Giuliana, riding on Angelo's Vespa. 

The taste and smell of almond paste reminds me of Christmas and my Nonna because it's used in so many classic Sicilian cookies. Fajitas always remind me of my dad because he can turn any leftovers you have into delicious fajitas. Ritz crackers remind me of my childhood and how the only way I would eat Top Ramen was with a handful of Ritz crushed into the noodles. 

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Tonight, at Pizzeria Mozza, Jon and I were transported to our trip to Italy where we ate pizza in Campo dei Fiori (which is actually where the chef of Mozza got her inspiration for her pizza dough). Every bite was an overindulgent, greasy, memory of jazz music playing in the piazza, an entire Roman pizza in our bellies, and a drowsy walk home to our Airbnb in the Jewish Ghetto just outside some ancient ruins. 

 

This is why cooking matters to me. Cooking connects me to my family. It's my history and it's my future. It's my legacy. Food brings friends and family around a table. It connects strangers and old friends. Food is an exclamation point to a celebration, and an embrace when there is mourning. When I watch cooking shows and documentaries about chefs I am overwhelmed with a feeling I can only describe as a sort of nostalgia. A longing to be back in the kitchen with Nonna, the joy of cooking holiday meals with my mom, the excitement of one day cooking with Brighton, the satisfaction of kneading dough into the most delicious dessert. There is so much to discover in the world of food and yet, it's all so familiar. 

Writer's Block

I've been a tad absent in my blog world recently. I've been both busy and in "consume" mode. I suppose I have been feeling like I don't have much to give because I've been running on empty. I'm no stranger to the feeling since motherhood consists of many days where the empty tank warning light is blinking. Maybe I'm just in one of those writer ruts. Writer's block is hitting me hard. So, I've been consuming a bit to fill myself up.

I thought I'd share some of what I've been reading and watching recently because it's all been refreshing and inspiring me to dream some big dreams for my 30th decade. Maybe if I get the courage (and clarity) I'll share a bit about that later. 

Read

I have always loved reading. I started reading at an early age, and I've always consumed books at a rapid pace. In my adult years and especially when I became a mom, I was reading less because I decided I didn't have time. Once I decided to MAKE time, I realized what a void I had from not taking in a variety of literature. Not just Christian inspiration, but fiction, non-fiction, history, fantasy...I've been shutting off the screens and making more time for my long lost love and it's so worth it. And of course, as a writer, reading is a super important tool for me. I'm learning that I'm a multiple books at one time kind of person. That way I have something appropriate for my always changing moods ;) So without further ado, here are a few of my recent reads. 

PRO TIP: CLOUD LIBRARY! Have you heard of this? Do you have it? It's amazing. I am allll about having a physical book to smell and peruse and dog-ear and highlight, but sometimes I can't get a book quickly enough OR my shelves are full OR budget. Cloud Library connects with your local library and you can borrow digital or audio books and return when you're done. It's been such a great tool for when I'm not sure if I want to spend money on a book or if I'm not sure I'll love it. 

Four Seasons in Rome This book gave me all the feels and transported me to Italy (where I'm wishing to be right now). This book follows a year in the life of the author and his family while they lived in Rome so he could write a book. It's an easy, enjoyable, summer by the pool kind of read.

A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War Read. This. Book. If you have any interest in C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien or European History, this book is fantastic. It's a short read and gives you a really wonderful perspective on how WW1 shaped the two authors and their stories. 

Bridge to Terabithia When I was in CYT (Christian Youth Theater) one of the first shows I was in was Bridge to Terabithia. My school never read the book, but I've always known the story from being in the play. I decided to actually read the book and my goodness it's beautiful. It's children's literature, so it's an easy read, but the themes and topics are timeless and it's just a beautiful (and heartbreaking) story. 

Simplicity Parenting Take this or leave this. I'm not one to force my parenting styles or beliefs on anyone, and chances are that just by seeing the title you'll be immediately interested or immediately rolling your eyes. I was given this book by a couple whose parenting style both Jon and I really admire, so I've been diving into it and loving it. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society This novel is being made into a movie that releases in the US soon, so I wanted to read it before seeing it on the big screen. It is so enjoyable! It's an epistolary novel (it's written in a series of letters from various characters to each other), which may not be for everyone. It's set just after WW2 and highlights some historical events from the Guernsey island during Nazi occupation and how literature has impacted the various characters. So the book nerd and Euro history nerd in me is having a party. 

Watch

Right now, I'm all about anything having to do with food. Documentaries and series about food with a good story behind it always inspire me in the kitchen. And always remind me of my Nonna and why I love cooking. Also, PBS Masterpiece Classics are my jam. Since Downton Abbey is done, I just watch anything cheesy and British that I can get my hands on (when Jon isn't home). 

Poldark (Amazon Prime) A good ol' PBS Classic. Based on novels, it's set after the American Revolution in Britain. It's not the kind of show that keeps you on the edge of your seat, binge-watching late into the night. But it's great for a quiet, slow, evening of British storytelling.

Chef's Table Season 4 (Netflix) Any season of Chef's Table is a good season of Chef's Table. This series is so great at capturing the story behind chef's. It's inspiring, it's heartbreaking, it's mouthwatering...I wish Chef's Table would never end. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix) Both seasons have been so entertaining. Neil Patrick Harris is a genius and the story hooks you.  

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What are you consuming right now to fill you up?