Freckles in April: 2018

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Thoughtful Books for Troubled Times

As a politically progressive ex-Mormon in Mesa, Arizona, I am used to being the black sheep. I may have tweaked my social media feeds into a bit of an echo chamber as of late, but I can't do that with my real life. My friends and family are predominantly religious conservatives, parents at preschool pick-up wear "Hillary for Prison" shirts, and I've worked out next to people who angrily denounced brands that took social stances I stand behind.

It's uncomfortable.

I mostly stay quiet. I am non-confrontational, almost to a fault. But sometimes (rarely! But sometimes), a chance for real conversation arises and I try to be prepared. I try to listen. I try to understand.

It's even more uncomfortable.

But life isn't supposed to be comfortable. And things aren't going to get better if we all insist on comfort, on not listening to other ideas, other experiences. So here are some books for navigating that discomfort and helping us to reach across to the other side.

Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind

I'm a huge Haidt fan- his work is both fascinating and accessible. This book builds upon his Moral Foundations Theory and does a really good job of explaining how good people can end up believing completely opposite things. It's non-partisan - you'll come away feeling validated in your beliefs but also understanding why the things that other people believe are also valid. I read this one early last year and I think I'm due for a re-read.

Justin Lee's Talking Across the Divide

Lee is a gay evangelical Christian and thus is uniquely positioned at the crux of both the left and the right. He's known for his efforts to build bridges between LGBTQ+ and evangelical communities and his book is a master class in both listening and empathy. His recommendations are solid and gave me a lot to think about and practice.

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

I know I JUST recommended this one but it's relevant to this post. Justification plays a large part in politics and this one goes hand-in-hand with Haidt's book. We need to examine our self-justifications and also be able to see the justifications of those around us. This book is also really good at pointing out the power of apologizing and taking responsibility which I think we all need a little more of that these days.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

This book is about veterans, PTSD, and the difficulty many soldiers have in coming home, all of which is timely and pertinent to today's sociopolitical climate where concern for veterans has been politicized and weaponized. But he also talks about the deep divides we're experiencing, how they're hurting us and where he thinks they come from. This book isn't perfect and there are some solid criticisms out there, but I loved it and it made me think about how I'm contributing to the divide. It's also quite short and a fairly quick and easy read.

Also, an excellent blog post worth the (not inconsiderable) time it takes to read- I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup from Slate Star Codex

Any books or podcasts or other resources you'd like to add?


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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Just Checking In

This fun thing keeps happening lately where someone in a FB group will post about a religious struggle and my blog gets mentioned and then a friend sees and I get tagged and then, while looking for relevant posts, I fall down the rabbit hole of my own blog. And then I start to miss writing and I daydream about getting back on the old bloghorse and then, like Fat Amy before me, I think, "Mmm better not."

But I wanted to check in and say hello, thanks for sharing my posts about losing my religion where appropriate...I still get regular emails from people whose friends or family have referred them to my blog once they started struggling. Some decide to stay, some decide to leave, but they find comfort in knowing they're not alone and boy do I know that feeling. It's nice to feel like I've had a positive impact.

In unrelated news, I cut my hair:

sister + me in the redwoods this summer

I've never done super short or blonde before so I decided to do both at once. The daily work is like nothing but dang, the maintenance! I need a trim and color like every 4 weeks. It's bonkers. We'll see how long I last. I'm a girl who saw a stylist *maybe* twice a year before.

so amazing for summer though

My kids went back to school today which means I have officially survived the summer but, if we're being completely honest, I didn't really. I started off strong through June and then we spent all of July traveling and it felt like everything slowly fell apart. One of my kids in particular really needs a schedule that includes an early bedtime. Without it he quickly becomes grumpy, impulsive, and irascible and by the first week of August our interactions were basically him being naughty and me yelling and both of us hating everything.

It doesn't help that I planned a 1 week vacation followed quickly by a 2.5 week vacation that involved a lot of (me) driving and then, smack in the middle of it, my kids got freaking LICE. A few other things conspired to make everything miserable (including raging wildfire smoke keeping us indoors) and I threw in the towel 5 days early. I drove my three children 17 hours in one day so I could just. freaking. get. home.

And thus I limped across the summer finish line, clothing smoking faintly, hair looking reminiscent of Albert Einstein.

Our vacation did have some really amazing days, just for the record. This one was darn near perfect.

Day 1 of back-to-school schedule and we are already doing so much better. I wish we were more flexible but we're just...not. We like our house and our bedtimes and our schedules and predictability. We will never be the Bucket List Family. We're like...the Stay Home and Be in Bed by 8 Family. Trademark. Now accepting sponsors.

I'm still doing (and loving) CrossFit. I took off the whole month of July (see: travel) and just started back this week and thus this post. I am too sore to do literally anything else. It's either type or stare at a wall and I choose the former.

I guess I can also read, which brings me to a recommendation: Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

I'm well on my way to reading 100 books in 2018 and thus far this is the best one I've read. I actually read it twice and now I'm foisting it on my book club for the month of August. It's all about self-justification and it's crazy how often I catch myself doing it. I'm taking on some big responsibilities this year and I want to be able to admit when I've made mistakes and apologize without justification. The few times I've been able to do that it's been amazing how quickly things resolve and everyone can just move on. I really think this book has been life-changing for me.

I have other things but they can wait. Love and hugs to everyone who is somehow still hanging around here from time to time!


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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mixed Faith Marriage and the "Big Days"

When I've written in the past about marriage after a Mormon faith transition I promised that life goes on and it looks mostly the same. The exception to this is the "big days." Blessing days, baptisms, weddings. These days, which should be lovely and happy and joyful end up being a little more...fraught.

Our first "big day" after I left the church was The Caboose's blessing day. I was having some anxiety over the idea of blessing her at church so we opted to bless her at home with only family present. I thought about asking to hold her during the blessing but, when it came down to it, I didn't feel the need. It was, as you can tell from the picture, really casual. My house was a disaster. Aaron was barefoot. We had an easy dinner afterward. The pre-big-day anxiety was way worse than the actual day.

Our next "big day" was Oldest's baptism. I didn't want him to miss out on the full experience due to his mom's belief system so we did the "normal" thing: invited lots of friends and family and planned a big pancake brunch at our house afterward. My emotions in the days leading up to the baptism were running really high. I personally feel 8 is too young to make the choice to get baptized and I didn't feel like he was choosing baptism because of a particularly strong belief but because it was expected and everyone else was doing it.*

On the day of the baptism I barely held it together. There were a ton of kids getting baptized that day and the chapel was PACKED. I don't remember much about the actual service but I was relieved when it was time to go home for the party.

Except the party was actually worse.

Well meaning friends came up to me and said things like, "Oh we're just so happy and relieved that he chose to get baptized!" While I stood there awkwardly, a smile pasted on, NOT saying, "Oh, you're so relieved he chose not to follow me?" The day was full of congratulatory texts and expressions of satisfaction with his choice. Sent to me. The person they knew didn't believe anymore.

A few days later I was talking to my friend Camille and she said, "I saw that Oldest got baptized...that must have been really hard for you!" I immediately burst into tears. She was the only person to acknowledge that that day might have been rough and less than joyful for me.

I understand that my child's baptism day is not remotely about me but that small expression of understanding meant the world.

*my intuition was right on this one. Six months later he declared he didn't believe in God or Jesus and he hated church.

Our most recent "big day" was Middle's baptism a couple weekends ago. I was less worried about his choice because he seems to be a real believer. He loves Jesus and enjoys church and I felt like he genuinely wanted to be baptized. However, I was dreading sitting through the talks again, the expressions of joy and relief from friends, the celebration afterward. In the weeks beforehand I'd occasionally joke with believing friends about how uninvolved I was with the baptism planning and would just get uncomfortable silence in return. My emotions started rising in that old, familiar, awful way.

Aaron and I discussed my concerns and decided to keep the baptism small- family only. We also decided not to do a party afterward. We thought maybe we could go out and do something, just the five of us.

After how awful Oldest's baptism was for me, I was braced for the worst.

And was fine.

It was structured differently- we were in our own room and never combined with the other groups getting baptized that day. My mother-in-law gave one talk and my mom gave the other. Our group was really small, which kept it casual and light. We're not a particularly musical group so the closing hymn was hilariously painful as none of us knew it and none of us can read music. When we went outside afterward the weather was so nice that we decided to all go get some lunch somewhere we could eat outside. I didn't have to stress about feeding everyone or cleaning my house or anything. It was easy and comfortable.

Also, multiple people checked in with me throughout the day. Friends texted to see how I was feeling, how it had gone, how I was handling things. That care and concern meant the world to me and it was really nice to respond that I was fine, things had gone well.

If you're in a mixed faith marriage, here's my advice for the "big days":

1. Keep it small and casual. It might help reduce the pressure on the non-believing spouse.

2. Know that the anxiety leading up to the day is almost always worse than the day itself. Aaron and I both have to deal with my big day anxiety and it's unpleasant. By the time the actual day rolls around we are both on high alert. And then the day passes and it's usually not nearly as bad as I'd imagined and we both breathe a sigh of relief.

3. Do what you need to protect yourself- For you this might mean inviting people who will serve as a buffer between you and people you can't handle on the "big days". It might mean building in some alone time afterward to decompress. For me this means a new dress. In my brain, clothing is armor but it also gives me something else to focus on during the lead-up. I can't tell you how many dresses I ordered and returned in the search for a good dress to wear to Middle's baptism. It was a weeks-long search and it was exhausting but you know what else it was? Distracting. Which was good for my anxiety.

4. Skip extras if you don't feel like you can handle them. The party afterward? Not an actual part of the ordinance (and, I've learned, not super common outside of areas that are heavily Mormon). You don't have to take fancy pictures. You don't have to create a special program. Do what you can and don't worry about the rest. I do recognize that kids might have their own expectations. I'm lucky in that my kids are pretty happy with the minimum but you may have to work with your kid to figure out what they are expecting out of their baptism day. Maybe you can negotiate a bit- a big party with friends to celebrate the birthday and a small baptism with family might be an acceptable option.

If you're a believer with an ex-Mormon friend who is going through "big days", here's my advice for you:

1. Acknowledge your feelings but also acknowledge that theirs may be different. They might want to cry. They might be really grumpy. They might be totally fine. You can say, "We're so happy for Timmy but how are you feeling? I can see how today might have been rough for you." If you're not prepared to deal with their uncomfortable feelings then maybe you're not very good friends after all.

2. Be open. Acknowledge awkwardness. Laugh together about it. Ask questions if you have them. When you refuse to acknowledge that things are different or weird or unique you are probably just making things MORE awkward. Don't make their exmo status a taboo subject. This applies in general but I feel like things get real weird with friends and family around the "big days" when I awkwardly try to ease the tension and everyone else shuts down and changes the subject and doesn't know how to handle it. We're all learning together- isn't it better if we can laugh and talk about it?

Your mileage may vary, of course, but this is my experience and advice from some of the "big days" we've had over the past four and a half years since my change of faith. If you're going through it, I just want to send you love and hugs. If you're in a mixed-faith marriage, I'd love to hear how you've handled the "big days" in your family!


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Monday, March 19, 2018

Egyptian Escape Room Party for Kids! aka: FUN but So Much Work and Never Again

The irony of this is that shortly before it all went down I was on Marco Polo with Erica and we were questioning moms who go all out for birthday parties.


I'm honestly the worst at kid birthday parties. My kids usually choose themes I hate (MINECRAFT). I hate messing up my house. I hate excessively detailed Pinterest ideas. I'm just...not into it.

My MO the past couple years has been to throw a bunch of money at someone else to entertain and/or feed the kids. We've done trampoline parks. Bouncy house rentals. Nothing at all (sorry, Middle Child's 7th birthday).

My point is: the party that follows is not my norm. If it's also not your norm I totally get it and I support you and after this I'll probably go back to being like, "Do you really need a party this year? How about I just order pizza and invite Grandma over?"

My oldest kid (I've nicknamed him Stinky for the purposes of this blog but he outgrew that moniker like 6 years ago so I'm just going to start call him Oldest. Baby 2 shall hereafter be called Middle and the baby is Caboose) turned 10 back in January. He told us he wanted to do his party at the FlowRider, which doesn't open until summer. I was like, "Low effort party months away from now? YES!"

THEN we went to a makerfest in Downtown Mesa that had booths and hands-on activities for kids- including a tent set up by a local escape room company that had all kinds of fun riddles and puzzles to open padlocks on boxes. I literally couldn't tear that kid away. He was IN. TO. IT.

In the car on the way home he asked if we could do an escape room for his birthday party instead. I said I'd look into it.

Unfortunately, despite having MANY escape rooms in the Phoenix area, few have options geared toward kids. And they were pricier than I was expecting.

I've been to an escape room before and I thought, "How difficult could it be to create one for a group of 10-year-olds?"

(Oh sweet summer child)

I shared bits of this on my Instagram stories and had a TON of people ask if I'd share what I did (people even offered to pay me. Which was nice and it reaffirmed that my blog readers are the best). I'll spare you the details for how it all came together but here's a walk-through of what it looked like by the end:

Oldest is super into the Rick Riordan Red Pyramid series right now (we read the first one aloud as a family and he sped off on his own after that) so a rough Egyptian theme seemed the way to go.

I made Oldest limit his guest list to 4 people. The escape room wasn't large and I knew we'd have a "too many cooks in the kitchen" situation very quickly if we had more than 5 kids in there. I think we could have done one less kid and it would have actually been better (there was often one kid sitting off to the side just hanging out while the others worked on a problem).

I wanted the invitations to set the tone for the party and thought it would be fun if the kids had to solve some kind of puzzle to get the party details. I thought about doing a cryptex and then spent ages watching how-to videos and reading lots of tutorials. I took pictures of the process with the aim of sharing a tutorial here but, to be honest, they were so much work I don't want to encourage anyone else to do it.

I made four cryptexes (crypticies?) and probably put in almost 20 hours of work on them. The ones in the tutorials I found were made out of PVC, wood, metal screws, and other sturdy materials but mine didn't need to be fortresses, they just needed to deliver the party invitations. I used cheap foam core boards in 2 different widths, wrapping paper tubes, hot glue, and lollipop sticks from the craft store. Cheap and effective!

I DID take a video of the finished product. I even took it horizontally like a civilized individual, but apparently my phone didn't realize that's what I was doing so I have a super annoying sideways video.

This is the text for the riddle in the beginning, in case you can't read it:

I can be thrown but I cannot be held in your hand

I’m best when enjoyed with your closest friends

I can be political

I sometimes include birthday cake (hint: this one will)

What am I?

After they solved the riddle and got inside the cryptex, they found this note:

Hey [Oldest], I'm glad to hear that [school event all the birthday party invitees were involved in recently] went well! It looked like a lot of fun! Work here in Egypt is going awesome. I think I've found something big but I'm not ready to talk about it- I'll tell you about it soon! Hug your family for me and I'll call on Wednesday like usual.

Uncle Jared


My uncle Jared missed his Wednesday call with my family. In all the years he's been working in Egypt he's never NOT called on Wednesday. I'm really worried- will you come over on Friday at 5pm and help me find him? Text my mom at [number] to let her know if you can come so she can make arrangements. We should be done by 7:30pm!

Signed, [Oldest]

PS We'll have pizza and cake because you can't solve a mystery on an empty stomach!

When all the boys arrived on the day of the party I read them this:

[Oldest]’s beloved uncle Jared is a world-famous Egyptologist. He’s been hinting lately that he’s found something big- really big. [Oldest] suspects it's a previously undiscovered tomb! But he missed his weekly call with [Oldest]’s family and [Oldest] is worried. [Oldest]’s mom says Jared is probably just off digging in his “secret location” and forgot to tell anyone but [Oldest] has decided to take his smartest, bravest friends to Egypt to go look for Jared. After a long flight the boys head straight to Jared’s office. [Oldest] hopes he’ll walk in and find Jared working at his desk but unfortunately there’s no one in the office, just the normal books and papers.

From there I let them loose!

We have a corner in our front room that is our kid's normal computer area. I set it up to look like the desk of an Egyptologist- I got a bunch of books on Egyptology from the library. I put up a corkboard with diagrams of pyramids, maps, images of Egyptian artifacts, etc. I even had a real Egyptian papyrus on loan from a friend (thanks, Lonica!). I used washi tape to tape off the boundaries of the office and told them they didn't need to worry about anything beyond those boundaries. Essentially, they were only working with the desk, chair, and the book case. I told them any clues in the book case would be pretty obvious so there was no need to pull out all my books to look for things.

Puzzle 1: Find the decoder wheel pieces and key and assemble.

I hid these three pieces throughout the office and they had to find them. This is where we ran into our first hiccup- there was a candle on the desk and the post-it with the key was stuck to the bottom. The boys looked INSIDE the candle but not underneath it. In retrospect, the candle was glass and they've probably been told one million times not to mess with glass items and it was dumb of me to put it underneath. I should have put it inside the lid or somewhere else entirely. They were barking up all kinds of crazy trees trying to figure out the decoder wheel ("This is a foot so it must be the letter F!") so I finally just told them where the key was.

Puzzle 2: Use decoder wheel to decipher the poem

Hidden on that white chair behind the pillow was a rolled up piece of paper. They quickly found it and unrolled it-

I found an ancient Egyptian poem online. I simplified it and converted it to hieroglyphics and put this together in Photoshop before printing it on a piece of paper that looked old and papyrus-y (my friend Lonica just happened to have some perfect paper laying around, in addition to the real papyrus she loaned me).

This is where we ran into our second (and third) hiccup. I thought this would be such a simple task- it's just basic decoding- but it took ages and there are things I would do differently in the future.

I didn't leave a big enough space between two words and the kids got WAY hung up right there (you can see the slash I added in to separate words when I finally wandered over to see what was taking so long). The bigger problem for them, though, was the fact that the ancient Egyptians didn't have a 26 letter alphabet. A few letters are represented by duplicate hieroglyphic characters (I and E, V and F, X and C). I thought the kids would be able to puzzle their way through that (I'm sure adults could have), but it was too hard for 10-year-olds, especially when you throw in the missing letters. If I were to do this again I would add a couple details to the duplicate hieroglyphics to differentiate each of the letters. 

When they (finally) translated the poem, this is what it said:

A boy goes dow_ to the r_ver
He gets a fish
for the gir_ he lov_s

Puzzle 3: Find missing letters in poem and use them to open the letter lock

The missing letters in the poem spell NILE, which was the code for the lock on a brown box that was tucked into the corner of the office.

Box was tucked at the end of the book case. You can see it in the lower right corner.

I literally just painted a box from our last Blue Apron delivery a shade of brown and added loops of twine to keep it closed with the lock. I had grand intentions of making it look like an old steamer trunk or something but the dang invitations took so long I just ran out of time and energy, so it was just a brown box. Which was ultimately maybe better because it actually took them a while to notice it. It blended.

When they opened the box they found the iPad aaaand...another box.

One of the boys said, "Another box?? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS." I died.

Puzzle 4: Unlock iPad using numbers from cork board

The iPad was locked with a 4-digit code. One of the boys noticed early on that there were pages with circled numbers tacked up on the cork board.

I found a book on Egyptology at a used book store and ripped out pages that contained numbers. I circled four of the numbers with green sharpie and tacked them up on the board. Then I changed the iPad's lock code to match the numbers I found.

When the boys unlocked the iPad they found a video waiting for them.

Side note: my parents recently moved to Texas and my brother Jared needed temporary housing before going to grad school in Pennsylvania in August so he moved in with us. We're not charging him rent which meant he didn't have any choice when I told him he was going to be a missing Egyptologist for a 10-year-old's birthday party. 

Earlier that day I took my brother into a dark closet and we recorded a quick video. He'd die if I shared it here so here's what he said:

"[Oldest]! I hope this works- I'm sending it from my iPhone to my iPad and just hoping you'll come looking for me. I was excavating a tomb and somehow the door got shut behind me and I'm trapped! I have some food and water- enough for a few days. I left a trail- you have to start at Alexandria then go to Giza. Then to the Valley of the Kings. Then to the Dakhla Oasis. Then to the Sphinx. Then to Abu Simbel. Find the- oh no, my battery is dy-!"

The video cut out.

Puzzle 5: Use Jared's directions to open the directional lock

In the lid of the big box was a map:

And inside that box was a smaller box with a directional lock-

Same song and dance with holes poked through the cardboard and twine to hold the lock.

If they followed Jared's directions in the video, they could look at the map and see how to open the directional lock- ↓↓←↑↓

Unfortunately, I messed this one up a bit and the directions did not match the lock code (should have been ↓↓↑↓). They worked on it for a while and I finally just had to open it for them. Sorry, kids!

Inside the second box was a blacklight flashlight.

Puzzle 6: Use blacklight flashlight to find marked book

I planned the party timing so that, at this point, the sun had mostly set and the room was getting dark. They used the blacklight flashlight to start scanning the room. I used a couple different things to mark the spine of an extra copy of the third Harry Potter book. Laundry detergent lights up under blacklight and yellow highlighter looks black. I painted the spine with laundry detergent and wrote hieroglyphics on it with the highlighter. Unfortunately, it still wasn't SUPER visible if they went over it quickly (which they did). I had to prompt them to go back and look more slowly. If I were to do it again I'd try to find some paint that would fluoresce more obviously under blacklight.

When they opened the book they found that part of it was hollowed out and there was a cut-up picture of King Tut

Puzzle 7: Assemble King Tut picture, flip over for tomb location

When the boys put together King Tut they had to tape the picture together and flip it over to find one last hieroglyphic word to decode. They quickly figured out that it said, "backyard" and they ran out to discover that I'd decorated our backyard with twinkle lights, lots of fun glow stick jewelry (they decked themselves out with glow necklaces, bracelets, etc.), a fire in the fire pit, a pyramid cake, pizza aaaand Uncle Jared!

Serious Eats Classic Vanilla Butter Cake frosted with Mel's Kitchen Cafe Vanilla Buttercream and topped with marshmallows I cut in half then toasted with a torch. It was a dang good cake. Time lapse video on my instagram

I thought about including a mummy's curse type element but everything I thought of was kind of hokey. I also really wanted to have the "tomb" be a separate location in our house (maybe the closet under the stairs?) with a blacklight trail leading to it but by that point my brain was so tired of coming up with puzzles that I just couldn't think of anything really creative for opening the tomb. So King Tut directing them to the party in the backyard it was. We told them the pyramid cake was the "tomb". Ha. They loved it though and didn't seem to feel it ended on an anticlimactic note.

The hardest part about this whole thing was not being sure if the puzzles I came up with were appropriate to their age level. When it was finished I thought, "This could take them 20 minutes or an hour and a half. I have NO idea." I was hoping for 45-60 minutes and it ultimately took them just under an hour, with a handful of hints and helps. They all said they had a really fun time. When I asked Oldest what he thought about his party he said, "I loved it!" Which, from my rather reticent child, is high praise.

If you'd like to make your own escape room, here are my tips:

1. Start with a back story. It will give you direction. Pick a time period, a place, a theme. 

2. Think in terms of puzzles and then make the story fit the puzzles rather than the other way around. I started with the idea of a decoder wheel then made it fit the story by adding hieroglyphics and an Egyptian poem. I knew I wanted to incorporate the iPad so I started there then worked out how to incorporate the lock code into the corkboard and what they would find when they unlocked the iPad.

3. Make a flow chart to track details. I have one on Google docs that has the puzzles listed in order with all the solutions and necessary details. It made it a lot easier to catch flaws when everything was laid out nicely that way. It was also really easy to assemble the day of the party- I just worked backward through my flow chart.

4. Make sure to include nonessential details when setting up. There were tons of books, maps, office materials, etc. that weren't relevant to solving the puzzles. It was interesting to watch the kids try to decipher what was important and what wasn't. It also adds to the ambiance.

5. Let the participants use their imaginations. The kids absolutely could have gotten past the locks and into those cardboard boxes without solving the puzzles but it didn't even cross their minds. Things don't have to be perfect- imagination will make up the difference between what you have on hand (or can make cheaply) and what you really wanted to do.


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

It Isn't Supposed to be Comfortable

My last morning at my old gym

Some time last year I outgrew my small gym. That gym had been part of my morning routine for almost 2 years and I couldn't fathom going anywhere else so, when my membership came up, I renewed for six more months. When that six months ended I knew I couldn't renew again. I needed different equipment, some coaching, more options. It was past time to move on.

There's a super affordable full gym in my old neighborhood where a ton of my friends go and I seriously considered it but, when I was honest with myself, I knew I wanted to try CrossFit. I got a recommendation for a box near my house and signed up for a two week trial.

The day before I started at the new place I went for a run. I'm not much of a runner but I was crazy terrified of starting CrossFit and I needed to run off my antsy nerves. After less than half a mile I was huffing and puffing and thought, "What am I doing?? I can't even run a mile without wanting to die, what makes me think I can handle a CrossFit workout?" And then I had a thought.

This is normal. 

It isn't supposed to be comfortable.

The shortness of breath. The tightness in my chest. It's normal. Sure, if I ran regularly it might not be quite as much of an issue but it's still an expected side effect. Running isn't comfortable. Exercise isn't comfortable.

As soon as I had that thought I decided to be ok with being uncomfortable. I turned up my music and ran until I got bored. I ran 4 miles. I can't tell you the last time I ran that far. I think it was 2009.

A few days later I was getting ready to release the first episode of my podcast and I had the thought that it wasn't too late to back out. I could just keep that one finished episode and my handful of drafts to myself and no one ever needed to hear them. I was uncomfortable imagining what people would think when they heard it, how I would explain it when I ran into old friends at the grocery store and they inevitably asked, "What have you been up to lately?"

And then I remembered:

This is normal. 

It isn't supposed to be comfortable.

New projects are fun but they also come with a certain amount of discomfort as you grow and stretch and learn. Putting yourself out there isn't comfortable. Letting people see vulnerable parts of you isn't comfortable.

I reminded myself that I am ok with being uncomfortable. I published the episode.

Over the past couple weeks I've noticed that life is not comfortable.

Talking to people I disagree with. Going to the lady doctor. Calling someone out on an inappropriate joke. Trying new foods. Sharing a deeply held belief. Driving in unfamiliar areas. These things make me wildly uncomfortable and that's normal. But I can choose to be ok with the discomfort, to do the thing anyway. Comfort zones are, well, comfortable. But good things happen outside them. Growing. Strengthening. Stretching. Learning. Expansion. Joy. Once I dropped the expectation of comfort I felt limitless.

Today at CrossFit my coach was teaching me a new skill involving a wonky hand grip. As I was trying to wiggle my fingers into position she said, "I know, it's not comfortable." I honestly almost laughed. I stretched my hands a little further and said, "That's ok!" and in my head I added,

I'm not here to be comfortable.


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Scared of Everything

If you read my post about my resolutions for 2018 you may recall that I wanted to take time to be creative. Normally I try to make my goals a lot more specific than that but, when it comes to creativity, you kind of just have to leave it open and see what happens.

I've had the itch for a while. Blogging regularly used to scratch it for me (I love to write- especially in short, snippety form) but now that I'm not doing it very often it's like the creative part of my brain found itself a sharp stick and has been jabbing at me in a very annoyed fashion almost any time I have a down moment. Every time I hopped on Pinterest or found a particularly lovely Instagram account or saw a gorgeous sunrise, I'd feel that poke poke poke and think, "I have GOT to make or do something."

When I made my resolution I had a mental list of options: take an art class of some sort, practice hand lettering more often, take more pictures with my nice camera, start a podcast, write a novel, find something new to blog about.

Honestly, I thought the podcast option was the absolute least likely thing to happen but then, one night a few weeks ago, I had crazy insomnia and spent hours thinking through all the things I'm afraid of and their associated emergency plans. I am scared of a LOT of things. Normal things, dumb things, legitimate things, irrational things. And I thought, "I'd like to talk about the things I'm scared of. I want to hear what other people are scared of. I SHOULD DO A PODCAST ABOUT THIS."

And thus Scared of Everything: A Podcast About Dumb, Weird and Irrational Fears was born.

I don't want to get your hopes up- this is entirely something I am doing for myself, to scratch my itch and stretch myself. It might be boring. It might be lame. But it's something that, so far, I have really enjoyed doing. It combines something I really love (short, snippety writing) with things that are entirely new to me (audio recording and editing and a lot of other tech stuff that has kicked my butt).

I spent a week and a half slowly sketching out the logo I had in my head only to run into technical issues when it came to digitizing it. So it's not my current logo and it may never be, but the finished product was never the point, was it? For that week and a half I'd periodically go, "OH! An umbrella!" and then run to find my pencil and add to my sketch or remove something that wasn't working and the sad, neglected, creative part of my brain laid down its stick and was happy.

You can listen to my very first episode right here or you can find it on iTunes!

And if you have a dumb, weird or irrational fear I'd LOVE to hear about it. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to handle outside submissions (read them myself? Have people come on and chat with me?) but you can email me at I've also set up an IG account to share pictures related to episodes (because fears really need visuals, you know?).

(PS Happy Valentine's Day!)

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Love is Art (Excuse Me While I Blush to Death)

I feel a bit awkward writing this post BUT I keep reminding myself that I'm an adult and I'm allowed to write about adult-type topics so *takes deep breath, hikes up britches* onward!

In 2015 I ran across Love is Art and thought, "Well that would be a pretty great anniversary gift." Unfortunately our anniversary had been, I kid you not, exactly one week prior. So I kept it open in a tab on my phone's browser for almost an entire year, during which time it just kept sounding better and better in my mind until I was congratulating myself on finding the greatest anniversary gift of all time. I finally bought it for him for our 11th wedding anniversary and presented it with great fanfare.

He was totally confused.

I explained.

He was excited!

But...we were tired.

I put the package under my side of the bed thinking we'd get around to it soon and then...another year went by. Occasionally I'd see it and go, "Oh yeah! We need to do that." Back under the bed it would go.

When I set up the sitting area in our room that we've always wanted I realized I needed some large, vertical art over the couch. Due to our spending fast I knew I couldn't buy any art for that area for another 5+ months and I was kind of bummed that it would take that long to finish off the area.


So yes, it took a home decorating project to make us actually use our kit. I pulled it out from under the bed one Friday afternoon and told Aaron it was his lucky night. We had dinner, put the kids to bed, and we made us some art!

In case you haven't figured it out by's sex art. Yes, really. And I'm sorry. But also I'm not sorry because A. it was really fun and B. I freaking love how our canvas turned out.

Here's how it works:

The kit includes a giant piece of plastic sheeting, a canvas, non-toxic paint, two pairs of disposable booties and a loofah.

You spread out the giant piece of plastic to protect your floor, place the canvas in the middle of the plastic, set the booties up on the side closest to the bathroom and stick the loofah in the shower. Then you just kind of drip the paint all over the canvas, strip down whatever you want to do on that canvas. When you're done you slip on the booties to walk to the shower and scrub off.

The whole thing was really fun and strangely empowering. Afterward I looked at myself in the mirror all covered in paint and though, *I* am the work of art. I kind of didn't want to wash it off.

Afterward we let the canvas dry and stretched it on homemade stretcher bars (cheap resawn trim from Home Depot with edges cut at 45* angles and screwed together with corner braces). Then I stained some pieces of poplar and we made a simple frame and hung the whole thing on our bedroom wall.

Sticker on the wood I used for the stretcher bars- it was under $5 per piece and I needed 2.

My angles weren't perfect but the stretcher bars get hidden under the canvas.

Basically held together with staples and a prayer

The canvas really completes that side of the room. I love the size, I love the look, I love the memory.

Valentine's Day is kind of a junk holiday for us- we don't go out, we rarely do gifts. But I think most significant others would appreciate something like this for Vday or an anniversary. It's a fun *adult* activity to do together and you get a cool piece of art to boot. There are lots of different canvas and paint color options and there's a 20% off coupon if you follow them on Instagram.

And here endeth the most awkward post I've ever written.

(P.S. Lady Gaga has done it!)


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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

5 Things I Love Right Now

A short list in no particular order:

1. Nairn Oat Grahams

Last October I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. I've been on thyroid medication for 6+ years but for the past while I just couldn't get to a point where I felt good. I felt tired and headachey a lot of the time. My stomach often hurt and by night time I was often so bloated I looked 5 months pregnant. Sometimes my joints would hurt. I tried a new doctor (my 4th in 4 years because they'd just test my thyroid levels, tell me I was fine and send me on my way) and she promptly diagnosed me with Hashimoto's and told me I probably needed to change my diet since Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease with related food sensitivities.

On her recommendation, I cut out gluten, dairy, corn, soy and sugar for 6 weeks then slowly added them each back in one at a time to gauge how my body reacted to each. As it turns out, I'm sensitive to everything on that list but corn. My diet looks really different these days- mostly meat, veggies, fruit and rice. On one hand, it totally stinks. But on the other hand, I feel SO MUCH BETTER.

It's been a few months now and I don't really crave sugar the way I used to but most days I still just need a little something small and sweet in the afternoon to get me through. These oat grahams have a super clean ingredient list and are so so good with a square of really dark chocolate.

I found them at Sprouts (which is my new Mecca, bless them for all their GF/DF options!) but they're also available on Amazon.

2. Desert Essence Restorative Face Oil

My face is way struggling this winter- it's red, dry, irritated, and breakout prone. I finally decided my moisturizer wasn't cutting it and found this little guy at Sprouts (I live there now). It's been about a week and my skin is so. much. happier. The oil has a nice light scent and is so moisturizing.

I started by wearing it only at night because it left me a little too shiny for daytime but I gave up on that and have been putting it on in the morning too because my skin needs it. I've even been mixing it in with a little of my my redness reducer before I put on makeup to make everything glide on more nicely. I'm a little more glowy than usual (I prefer a matte face) but I don't look greasy. I suspect my whole body could benefit. I should just bathe in it.

Looks like the brand is on Amazon- they've got so much amazing sounding stuff!

3. Having a bedroom seating area

I was kind of over our front room so I dragged almost all of it piece by piece upstairs and made the bedroom sitting area we've been wanting for AGES. It needs art (we have a canvas to hang, just need to get some stretcher bars) and hardware to hang the light properly but we love it SO MUCH.

I'll steal away during the day to read under the blanket. At night Aaron will sit on the couch and do his end of day Netflix watching on the couch so we're at least in the same room while I'm trying to sleep. The afternoon light in our bedroom is fantastic and it's such a great place for me to rest and regroup after I put the Caboose down and before the boys get off the bus in the afternoon.

4. My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

This is a true crime/comedy podcast. Yes, you read that right. In each episode Karen and Georgia tell stories of murder and mayhem while somehow injecting both humor and compassion. There have been times where I have been laughing my head off and then crying within a 30 second span.

Both women are gifted storytellers and also very funny and the combination is just perfect. They do love them a good f-bomb so if you're super sensitive to that you may want to pass. I went to see them live on Sunday and it was just THE BEST. I want to hug them.

5. Marco Polo

The best way to describe Marco Polo is "text messaging but with video". Or maybe "SnapChat but it doesn't disappear and you don't have a public feed." You choose the person you want to send a video to, press start and it immediately starts sending them the video. They can watch it live OR whenever they get around to it. There are a few filters (including voice filters) but they're not really the point.

I downloaded this when I finally got an iPhone with some storage space and now I use it all. the. time. My sister just bought a house in Oregon so we Marco Polo all day about wall color options and decor. You can also draw so when I was trying to explain a new fireplace surround for her I just drew straight on my video so she could wrap her mind around what I was very badly explaining. You can also do group chats- I have a couple of those with local friends who I wish I could see more often but life gets in the way. It's a fun way to check in- "Look at these cupcakes I made for my kids class this morning! What are you guys up to?" or "I'm at Target and look what I found! I knew you guys would appreciate it."

It just helps me feel a little more connected to the people I love.

What are some things you love right now?

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Less But Better | Brand Recommendations for Quality Clothing

I'm two weeks into a six month spending fast which has made compiling this list a very real test of my fortitude.

Not buying things (and even the prospect of not buying things, since I started thinking about this in November and December) has made me think a lot harder about what I really want to make space for in my home and in my life.

I'm at the point where I want a smaller wardrobe of nicer, well-fitted clothing that will last through years of regular wear. I'm done having babies so I don't expect my size and shape to change much like it did over the past decade of childbearing. I have a little more disposable income so I can shell out for something a little higher quality than your average Forever 21 top. I'm solidly comfortable in my sense of style and have worn essentially the same colors and shapes for several years now.

I want less but better.

(side note: how do you tell if clothing is higher quality? Go through this list! Or this one.)

With this in mind I asked on Instagram what brands people would recommend for higher quality items that were worth a higher price point. I got a lot of really great suggestions as well as requests that I share the list so here we are:


I went hard on Everlane when they first opened and then kind of stopped wearing tees for a while and I guess forgot about them? I give my brother-in-law a gift card to Everlane for Christmas and birthdays but never browsed much for myself.

HOWEVER. Everlane is a rockstar combination of quality and good labor practices and they've waaay expanded their offerings. Their small collection of t-shirts has grown to include jeans, dresses, cashmere, shoes, bags and more. They carry solid, classic basics that you can get years of wear out of. There's a LOT of good stuff and I'd really like to try some of their newer options.

Making my credit card fingers itch: this wine colored silk v-neck tank

AG Jeans

Many years ago Reachel Bagley recommended AG Jeans on her blog and I made a mental note. When they showed up on Hautelook (a flash deal site associated with Nordstrom) a few months later I snagged a pair for $74. It was the most I'd ever spent on a pair of jeans and I felt slightly sick about it (I couldn't fathom paying the full $130 price tag) but they have been the best pair of jeans I've ever owned. They were my only pair of jeans for a while and I wore them almost daily. I bought them in April of 2012 and they finally developed a hole in one knee late last year. I added a few more holes to make it look intentional and I'm still wearing them. They haven't stretched out or lost their perfect fit- they still make my backside look fantastic and they look amazing with everything. Quality denim matters.

Making my credit card fingers itch: The Farrah Skinny Ankle

Lucky Jeans

Several people mentioned how devoted they are to Lucky brand jeans. I've never tried them but there are stories in my DMs of jeans worn for a decade that still look basically new. Definitely worth giving a try.

Making my credit card fingers itch: The Ava Legging


When we were in Tahoe last year we poked our heads into a Patagonia store, choked at the price tags and quickly walked back out. Then Aaron listened to an episode of the podcast "How I Built This" featuring Patagonia's founder and he was so impressed with the company's ethos that we started looking at Patagonia with fresh eyes. They strive to make higher quality products and then they stand by them- they even resell secondhand Patagonia stuff because they want to be environmentally friendly. Their style is pretty different from mine (I only wish I was that outdoorsy) but I'm keeping my eye on their site anyway- at some point I'd really like to pick up one of their fleeces.

Making my credit card fingers itch: The Bottom Turn Bikini Top


There was a woman at church a couple years ago who always wore THE best dresses. One week I finally stopped her in the hall and said, "Ok, all of your dresses are fantastic...where do you shop??" She told me she's addicted to the Boden sale section. I'd heard of Boden but had zero experience with them. Their stuff leans toward the professional but I think there's a little something for everyone. Their dresses are particularly good.

Making my credit card fingers itch: the Jordana Jersey Dress


I did some research for this post and eShakti showed up several times as a higher quality brand with good labor practices. I love eShakti- I've worked with them in the past as a blogger and I've also spent my own money on their dresses. Their stuff really is just so so good. I have like 10 of their dresses in my closet and they all look brand new despite a lot of wear. I think their jersey and pima cotton are particularly good, but I've never had a dud from them. Plus: almost everything they make has pockets and you can customize the sleeves, neckline, length, etc. You do have to do some digging to find the good pieces but there's gold in there.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Trapeze Hem Cotton Knit Dress (with 4 neckline, 6 sleeve and 5 length options)

Michael Stars

This was an IG recommendation and one that I'm not personally familiar with but it looks like they carry solid basics. No crazy prints or cuts here, just well-cut pieces that won't go out of style for a good long while.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Short sleeve soft v-neck with pocket

Ann Taylor

I've actually never shopped at Ann Taylor and know very little about it but a handful of people recommended it. In the past they've carried more professional pieces and I haven't worked in an environment that required anything fancy from me wardrobe-wise in....ever. But looking at their website it appears they've branched out a bit and there's more variety in their offerings.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Knit Pencil Skirt

J. Crew

I think J. Crew technically counts as fast fashion, which makes me hesitant to include them but honestly their quality is generally pretty great, even if they're not the most ethical or sustainable brand. J. Crew is really accessible and has product reviews on their site, which I always appreciate. If I'm going to spend $100+ on something then I'd really like to know if other people thought it was worth the money!

Making my credit card fingers itch: Striped short sleeve button-up shirt

Amour Vert

Another brand I have no personal experience with but the fabrics sound divine. I like quite a lot of their tops and I'm dying over most of their jewelry.

Making my credit card fingers itch: the Ariel Top and Gold Bar Necklace

Bead & Reel

A little boutique that carries pieces from 60+ independent designers and focuses on eco-friendly, cruelty free, and sweatshop free styles.

Making my credit card fingers itch: dark blue midi skirt

Banana Republic

Like J. Crew, the Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic empire is definitely more in the fast fashion category. But BR is generally pretty decent quality- their button downs and trenches are particularly good.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Satin Ballerina Criss-Cross Flat

...and sometimes Gap

Quite a few people recommended Gap and every single one did so with a caveat. The Gap is hit or miss- some stuff is really great and some is more along the lines of Old Navy quality. I have a jacket from Gap that I paid full price(!) for almost eight years ago. I wear it constantly and it's still in fantastic shape.

Paris, 2013. It was a couple years old at the time and I still wear it regularly now.

However, in the time I've owned it I've burned through a LOT of other crummy things from Gap. So just be really discerning when you pick up anything from Gap- go through the quality checklist and be picky.

Making my credit card fingers itch: Softspun open-front cardigan

This is obviously by no means a comprehensive list but it's a start if you, like me, want to start accumulating "less but better" clothing. If you have a favorite brand I missed, please share in the comments or through email!

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