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Hey, guys. It’s been a while. If you think I didn’t notice, believe me: I did. But sometimes, you can have grand plans for things — like this blog — and life will just get in the way. That’s certainly what happened on my end. I have a plethora of saved blog posts, series I planned to launch, and a schedule I had hoped to keep to.

And then, well, life just got too busy.

But you know what? That’s okay. 

It’s something I’ve had to preach to myself often during this blogging journey. I find myself frustrated that I, quite frankly, haven’t made the time to get this little platform of mine to where I’d love for it to be. But then I remember that the reason I haven’t been as diligent about setting aside time for the blog is because I’ve been so busy doing other things, things that I’ve deemed as a bigger priority. All year, I’ve been trying to focus on balancing what’s work and what’s fun, what’s necessary and what’s a bonus, what’s rewarding and what’s stressful. I never wanted to look at this blog as a job, something I had to do. So, yes, sometimes, that will mean I disappear for a month. It means I’m not quite so good at that blogging planner my best friend bought for me. It means I won’t post as much on Instagram.

That’s perfectly, 100% okay.

So anyways. Long rambling reasoning for my temporary absence aside, here I am.

It’s Sunday morning, and it’s a little chilly outside, at least for Arizona. I haven’t opened the windows yet, at least. The tree outside our apartment is finally shedding some leaves and turning a proper orange; I’m loving it. Currently, I have a pumpkin candle lit and some pumpkin creamer in my coffee. It’s finally feeling like fall.

So, naturally, I decorated for Christmas last night.

Before you all jump on me with “it’s too early!” or “Thanksgiving first!” — I just gave you all examples of how the pumpkins have decidedly not left yet. I just added some Santas and a Christmas tree to the bunch.

Needless to say, the holidays are my favorite time of year. Christmas is my number-one favorite, but Thanksgiving is a close second. Partly because I always go home. Partly because there’s stuffing and mashed potatoes. Mostly because it gives me a chance to look back and reflect on what I’m most thankful for this year.

This year, I’m thankful for the little lessons.

I’m thankful for the growing pains. It’s been a year of transition in some ways. The boy is hard at work studying for the CPA exam, and at some times, that’s been a little taxing on both of us. On top of it, there’s definitely been moments when I’ve unfairly taken my own stress out on him, whether that’s with snippy words or general disinterest. But we’ve continued to learn and grow through the more challenging seasons, and in the end, we’re learning to love each other better. I know this is a natural progression of a relationship, and I know that we are stronger for it. For that, I’m ever so thankful.

I’m thankful for distance. I won’t lie — it’s hard to have your best friend live several states away. It’s hard to not be near the majority of your family. There are times I wish I could just show up at my Grammie’s house, or call up the Shining Twin and demand a chips and salsa-fueled Friends marathon. But as I get older, I realize that there’s a level of effort that goes into maintaining relationships over distance. This is something I used to take for granted, especially when it comes to my family. Yes, family will always be there, but you’ve got to work at it like any other relationship. I like to think I’m getting better at managing the distance. Who knows if that’s true? But I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from it.

(And, of course, this isn’t to discount my friends & family that are here. I’m of course so thankful for the immediate family that is nearby; not everyone’s so lucky to have their parents, siblings and brand-new niece less than 30 minutes away.)

I’m thankful for stress. This sounds weird, I know. But I mean it more of this way: I’m thankful to have a job I care so much about to be so stressed about sometimes. Granted, it’s not always stressful. It’s less often stressful than it is not, really. But there are certainly times, as with anything we care about, where pressure mounts — whether that’s to hit a deadline, to prove you can do it, or just to get the job done. However, I do think that a lot of my own pressure is self-inflicted, and I know for a fact that I do it because I want to excel in this position I love so much. Ultimately, that’s a wonderful thing.

Three simple things, and three big lessons I’ve learned this year.

So while I do apologize for not being as consistent with this blog as I might ideally like to be, I don’t apologize for the reason behind it. I don’t apologize for learning to be more present when I need to be, I don’t apologize for spending more time Facetiming than doing Instagram photoshoots, I don’t apologize for setting aside my side hustle for my main one. Life is about prioritizing sometimes, and in different seasons, different things will be important.

This blog is still my outlet, and I hope to have more time to devote to it once life calms down a little. For those who are hanging in there: thank you. I’m endlessly thankful for you, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Last weekend, I made my way back to the homeland (aka, the capital city of California), to gather with my family and a plethora of family friends to celebrate an incredible achievement for my grandparents: 60 years of marriage.

60 years.

A part of me is in complete awe by that inspiring number, but another part of me is just quite simply, inspired… and, frankly, always has been. It was mentioned throughout the weekend how my grandparents so fiercely set an example of love & aloha for our family, and that could not be more true. If there is one consistent with us (besides, of course, an affinity for good wine, which they also instilled in us), it’s the spirit of aloha.

I was born in Sacramento, so going back never quite feels like travel… a bit more like a homecoming. (Yes, I get this same feeling when I go back to the wine country, too. Is it spoiled to consider so many places home?)

Still, this particular trip turned us into tourists — literally, we went down to Old Town Sacramento, the small section of city alongside the river that clings on to the charm of when it was truly a train stop town.

The perks of being in town for celebrations — the anniversary coincidentally coincided with Father’s Day, which allowed me to sneak out to see my dad and his side of the family, too — is also the chance to indulge, more than you might normally on vacation. We were treated some very delicious Sacramento cuisine.

Where We Ate

I’m highlighting 2 of the places we went in this post, primarily because I forgot to get pictures of the crab melt at the third place (Rio City Cafe, if you’re curious).

Il Forno Classico

My grandparents are regulars here — so much so, that they actually knew the waitress we had in the back wine room, which we’d reserved for the party. Granted, this isn’t the only place they know the wait staff — their friendliness with everyone they meet is one of the many reasons we all love them.

As mentioned, our family rented the back wine room for the dinner party. The wine flowed, so did the bubbles, and the food. We had three delicious courses. The first of burratta, calamari, and bread, followed by the most delicious salad. My mom and I both got the ratatouille — and yes, I did request a cute little rat in the chef’s hat to accompany the dish.

But let’s talk about the dessert. I’ve got a family of sweet tooths (teeth?) — my stepdad and my grandfather in particular, and my aunt is always down for a good chocolate cake. We couldn’t decide, so plates of tiramisu and chocolate cake and creme brûlée made their way around the table.

Localis 

I went here with my dad’s side for Father’s Day brunch and I’ll use my dad’s words here: this was one of the best meals I’ve had since Italy (and I eat a lot of good food). Localis is, as the name might imply, a locally-sourced restaurant with an everchanging menu based on what’s seasonal and fresh. There’s a set menu for things like Father’s Day.

That set menu included a stone fruit salad, which just might have turned me into a fruit-in-salad convert.

Then came the vegetable hash, which was served with a side of roasted potatoes and the best green beans I may have ever eaten.

And let’s talk for a second about that dessert (there’s a theme here, if you couldn’t tell… I like dessert). The beauty of a restaurant that knows exactly how the play up flavors is that dishes don’t need a lot of show or spices or sugar. It’s simple. And simple food, if you ask me, is most often the best.

Localis had a sign in front when we were there:

Good vibes. Good food. Good Service. That describes Localis, and it describes the weekend. And, just maybe, it might describe the secret to my grandparents’ 60 years.

Good vibes… what will be, will be.

Good food… well, that one’s self explanatory.

Good service… to one another, to family, and to love.

60 years is a heck of an accomplishment, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be there to celebrate any other way.

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If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that we don’t get to plan life’s twist and turns. We can try, sure, but trying is one thing — life actually going that way is an entirely other, and you’re a rare breed of lucky if that actually works out for you.

To be completely honest, I never expected that my life would offer the path that it has thus far. I didn’t expect myself to “settle down” — for lack of a better, if terribly overused, phrase. 

My disclaimer now, and perhaps the point of this post, is that I hardly view myself as settling. Instead, my life was rocked by a totally changing, overwhelming, incredible love story. I have said this countless times, and I wholeheartedly believe, that the reason the Lord called me to stay rooted in Phoenix was to find this love.

And my, oh my, am I so grateful for it.

I think about this sometimes. I don’t think I’ve ever told the boy this much, in as many words, but he really has changed my life, in the most cliche and the absolute best ways. The future that I once saw as an endless string of running — off to the next city, the next place, the next opportunity — has slowly molded into one a bit slower, a bit more intentional.

If I’m being completely honest — and again, that is the point in all of this — I think the future I once envisioned for myself involved a lot of running. Not in the literal sense, but rather the figurative one. I’d be lying if I didn’t look at a vagabond-type lifestyle as one that offered a route for escape whenever the going got tough. It may have been hard in some ways, but it certainly felt easy in others.

I no longer have the option to just run. If I did, I’d lose the very thing that has become most important to me.

And you know what else I’ve realized?

That’s not a bad thing.

I am by no means stuck. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. The Lord called me to grow roots, and now, I am blooming. My heart blooms with the possibility of love and a future that I never imagined wanting but now I deeply ache for (eventually); my career blooms with opportunity and growth; my own sense of self blooms with peacefulness and presentness.

If I’ve ever had a true testament to my faith, this realization has absolutely been it.

In actuality, and according to one of my dearest friends, I’ve “always been that type of girl.” The type to fall in love fast, hard, quickly, and long for something lasting. It’s just been that previously, nothing has lasted.

This one has. This one took a trial of faith and blind optimism, as well as a whole heck of a lot of trust in the urgings of my own heart.

And, of course, guidance from the Lord.

To say that my trust in my relationship and my trust in the Lord go hand-in-hand probably sounds naive, or love blinded. But I truly believe that. I believe that the Lord offered me this relationship as a way to prove that He does provide, and He provides so abundantly, so long as you trust and obey his will and his Word.

He called me to stay put.

So I did.

And, without looking, He offered me the most wonderful love I could have ever asked for… the sort of love I didn’t even dare ask for.

I remember reading an article one time about how the butterflies went away for one writer’s relationship after a while, and how that was okay because they were replaced with an overwhelming sense of security and love and warmth.

I’m proud — or maybe actually humbled? — to say that I feel the same way, but I do still get those butterflies when the boy walks in the door every night. But when I think of him, it’s not the same heart-pumping, nervous anticipation I’ve felt before. It’s calm. It’s comfort.

It’s wonderful.

I apologize, truly, for what is essentially a rambling love letter. But I just so deeply hope that you, dear reader, understand that this is more than just about my abundance of love for my boyfriend. That’s well and good and so very true, but this is about more than that. This is about giving into the unexpected and getting what you never knew you so deeply longed for as a result. This is about trusting what you are called to do, even if it goes against every other desire you thought that you had. This is about believing in the surprised that life has in store.

It’s infinitely better than anything I could have planned out for myself.

First off, yes, this is belated. I traveled over the weekend and if anyone understands delays in “working” due to traveling, it would be the two of you.

That said, I’m a lucky girl to be able to say that. “The two of you.” Like, I’m a really lucky girl. I’ve got two wonderful, inspiring men to look up to and refer to as my father, and my stepfather. I’ve got two dads to celebrate each year, and I’m so grateful for that.

Growing up, I’ll admit, I struggled with loyalty. I don’t think this is an entirely unique thing for a child of a blended family, especially one with birth parents in separate states.

Let me pause right here to say that I wouldn’t change how I grew up for anything. Maybe it wasn’t the traditional situation, but it made me exactly who I am today, and it gave me the best relationships with my parents I could ever imagine. Because what it made me realize, eventually (once I pulled out of the angsty teenager phase of life, I suppose), is that families aren’t drawn by lines of loyalty. Families are drawn, so simply, by lines of love.

And I’m lucky enough to love, and be loved, by two of the greatest men – my dad and my stepdad.

If I learned anything by growing up the way I did, it’s that, when it comes to fathers,

two is greater than one. 

Granted, that’s simple math. It’s obvious. But it can be messy and confusing when you’re trying to navigate through the inevitable complications of blended families. I won’t lie and say everything was easy, but in the end, everything turned out exactly how it was meant to.

So happy Father’s day, Dad. Thanks for always encouraging my unruly and sometimes unrealistic sense of adventure. Thanks for taking me on a dream trip to Italy and for forging our friendship among the ruins of Rome and the hilltops of Florence. Thanks for loving me so well through all of it, and for loving those I love so wholeheartedly. Thank you for being an example of loving that way — fearlessly, recklessly, incredibly. Thank you even for the hard times, which we got past and grew stronger from. Thank you for the good morning texts and the random ones about popsicles and Giants games. Thank you for never giving up on our relationship, and for that bringing out the best in both of us.

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And happy Father’s day, Donald. Thank you for stepping in without a doubt or a question or a moment’s hesitation. Thank you for killing the cockroach that showed up in my washcloth that one time. Thanks for instilling in me a love of trop rock and corned beef & cabbage, and for always indulging your sweet tooth with me. Thank you for every piece of advice — even the ones I’m stubborn about. Thank you for being my constant supporter and for always answering my questions about cars. Thank you for being my mechanic and my mentor and everything in between.

Thank you both for making me who I am today, and molding me into the woman I’m becoming.

I never imagined I could be so lucky.

It seems that everybody has a 5 year plan, and we are no different. We spent some time talking about our plan when we were driving back from California, a place that we both adore and would love to live in one day. In fact, that, in a nutshell, is what we discussed: where we would go.

The boy loves San Diego, and I like just about any place west of the Arizona border. I wouldn’t mind if we were in Northern or Southern – I’m a California girl at heart and I’ve come to the official conclusion that I always will be. That said, I’m from the North. I was born in Sacramento, where my dad still lives, but the majority of the family is in the wine country, and it’s there that I think of when I think of “home.”

So, needless to say, when the boy said that he thinks it would make the most sense for us to move there, so we could be close to family, my heart swelled. I may have cried a little behind my mirrored sunglasses. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to love him more than I did in that moment (although, I’m sure I’ll get proven wrong about that).

That said, it makes my heart so happy and hopeful to know that we are on the same page about where we’d like to end up. Even if it’s not in five years exactly, or even if it never actually happens, having that sort of synergy with someone is an incredible feeling.

And I’m so thankful to the Lord for bringing the boy to me.

The thing is, I could have left right after college. I could have ignored what I felt God was truly calling me to do – that is, to stay planted – and run after a job opportunity across the country. And for a while, after choosing to stay in Phoenix, I wondered if I was actually going against God’s will. I questioned if I actually stayed because it was comfortable, if I was just too scared to take the leap.

It was an uncomfortable place to be, to be frank. I felt like God’s reasons for keeping me in Phoenix were unclear. Sure, it was great to be close to my mom, and I found a church community that I loved. But I also felt sort of stuck, and disappointed in myself for not being the girl who left after college, like I always thought I would.

And then I met the boy.

Now, I know that sounds kind of lovesick and I’m not afraid to admit that it probably is. But I was really cautious at first. I was so scared of getting hurt again, but the Lord made it so easy to see exactly why opening my heart to the boy was the right choice. The Lord even gave me the opportunity to look at what “could have been” had I made some different choices in that time, and I have to say that I’m so thankful for that too. I’m a bad “what if”-er, and the Father knew that. I know that’s why he gave me the chance to see, even for a day, what could have happened had I made a different choice.

I’m so thankful that I didn’t.

Looking back, it’s so easy to see that God kept me in Phoenix to meet the boy. It’s so clear to me now, but that’s how perspective often is, isn’t it? I was clearly meant to grow roots here, at least for now. That growth has gone beyond my relationship, though, and extended to my family, my career, my finances, even my relationship with the Lord Himself. I’m so thankful that I listened to His calling. I’m so grateful that I stayed.

That said, that’s really what the 5 year plan is, too. Sure, we have an idea of where we want to go, but I also wanted to end up on the East Coast or across the pond as soon as I could after throwing my graduation cap in the air. And yet, here I am: happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. I have Him to thank for that and no one else, and I know that if we trust in Him to guide us through the next 5 years, He will provide with exactly what we need. Whether that’s in the Valley of the Sun, or in the lush hills of the wine country, or somewhere else entirely, it’s just a matter of trust.

It’s always a matter of trust. Trust, and love for the Lord above all else. The Lord may have opened my heart for a romantic love, but He has also shown his grace and power and kindness so fiercely for me in these past 2 years, that my love for Him, the King of kings, has only swelled infinitely as well.

Amen.

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith
– Matthew 21:22

So, here’s an unpopular opinion of mine: I used to hate Valentine’s Day. Granted, I have grown into a bit more of a fan lately. I mean, I certainly get the appeal of it, and I’d be lying if I said that my opinion hadn’t softened now that I have someone wonderful to share it with. But as a whole, I think that while the concept is nice, the entire thing has a bad tendency to be entirely over-hyped and generally a little disappointing… and that’s a problem. A day that’s meant to show someone how much you love them shouldn’t feel like so much pressure.

(I have this same feeling towards New Years. Perhaps it stemmed from the bitterness of singledom, but even as I’ve experienced my past few in a relationship, both holidays still seem to me to just be, generally, too much.)

Don’t get me wrong. Valentine’s Day is cute. It’s nice to shower the person you love with a little extra affection. And, plus, there’s a lot of chocolate involved, and we all know that I believe chocolate makes everything better.

But I don’t think it necessarily needs to be some big, huge deal. In fact, lately, I’ve started to realize that Valentine’s Day can be even better if you step away from the hype. I’m lucky enough to be with a guy who likes to keep things just as low-key as I do. Together, we’ve started to look at Valentines Day as less of a stressful requirement and more as another opportunity to say: hey, I love you.

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So, in the spirit of the holiday I once thought I hated, I’ve pulled together a few ideas if you, too, are looking to step past the idea of a stressful Hallmark holiday, but still wouldn’t mind showing that special someone that you think they’re… well… special:

For your first Valentine’s day: Craft from the heart.
There’s nothing more meaningful than something homemade, and that doesn’t mean you need to go Pinterest-crazy, either. Last year, I made my boyfriend a jar of a hundred Hershey’s kisses – so that he could have a kiss even when we weren’t together. Plus, homemade gifts take the pressure off of “perfect” — because most of the time, they’re better with a little character.

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(It should probably noted that this jar was mostly eaten by me. We’re together a lot.)

If you’ve been dating a while: Cook… for one another, or together.
There’s a reason that people romanticize cooking for your significant other. It’s sweet, and it’s simple. Whether you order yourself a special box of Hello Fresh for the night, or you can whip up something delicious and ingenious on your own (and props to you if you can!) If it’s out of your routine, it makes it all the more special.

If you just moved in together: Lean into traditions. 
This year, my guy and I aren’t going anywhere fancy. We’re going to hit up one of our favorite casual restaurants and just enjoy being together… in one of our places. I don’t know if it’s the idea of having traditions or places we consider “ours” that made me swoon at this suggestion, but I am totally looking forward to a night further emphasizing an element of our relationship. I like thinking of things as “ours,” and I feel like that falls almost directly in line with what you should look to emphasize on Valentine’s Day.

If you’re in it for the long haul: Do something different.
Regardless of if Valentine’s Day actually falls on the weekend or not, chances are, there’s a 3 day weekend pretty close to it. Take advantage of it! Get outdoors and do something you don’t normally do — ski down some mountains, go for a hike, take a weekend trip to a cozy cabin in the woods. Whatever is up your alley, sometimes a getaway can be the very best kind of celebration.

I’ve done all of these things with or for my guy as part of our Valentine’s celebrations the last two years, and they have all made me realize the sweet simplicity of celebrating love. Sure, I think you should show your sweetheart how you feel every day, and I still think that people put too much emphasis on doing it for this one day a year. But if you’re like me, and you and your person can agree to keep it calm and quiet, I bet you’ll find that there is something pretty sweet about doing something a little extra special.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.

To put it plainly, for the past couple of weeks, I have been avoiding writing. It’s ironic, really, because usually, putting pen to paper (or, in this case, fingers to keyboard) is how I process things. And maybe it’s because this is something I wasn’t quite ready to process, or maybe it’s because it was entirely too overwhelming to think about, or maybe it was something else entirely, but I have been hesitant to come to the keyboard as I have dealt with life’s latest trial.

On December 1, 2017, my grandfather passed away.

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Grief is not something you can ever be prepared for, and if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that every season of it brings with it its own, unique, unexplainable sadness.

My heart is heavy, but also light. I am thankful to have been able to go back to California and spend Thanksgiving with him and the rest of the family, and to have that most precious time that I can undeniably say has changed how I feel about Thanksgiving forever.

Now, I know I am incredibly lucky. Beyond blessed, actually. I had 23 and a half wonderful years with him, and he gave those before me 87 years of the fiercest, sometimes toughest, most genuine love.

There’s a lot to consider when someone you love passes away. How do you honor their memory? How do you uphold their legacy?

For Paw Paw, it’s pretty simple.

His legacy… is us.

Those who know my family know how tight knit we are. It’s our best fault, actually, as it can sometimes (okay, oftentimes) be intimidating to try to penetrate our bond.

But the best thing about my family is – usually, you won’t have to try to break into our arms. More often than not, we will welcome you wholeheartedly, and you will be enveloped in the same overbearing, incredible love that we offer one another so passionately.

We are the kind of family that always gets together, regardless of the occasion. Whether it’s a holiday, birthday, or just some random weekend that someone decided to come home on, you can find us gathered around a kitchen island, snacking on salami and cheese and being entirely too loud.

Paw Paw spoke often the last time I saw him about how proud he was of our family.

I told him that he should be proud of himself, for building it.

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He built the kind of family that would have been together on Thanksgiving, regardless of the circumstances, but who made absolutely sure to be together this year. He built the kind of family who spent a week together every year in one huge house in Oregon, despite most of them living in the same small town. He built the kind of family that always comes first.

I have always lived by that motto — “family first” — and it isn’t until recently that I’ve realized how unique a perspective that can be.

My grandmother always says the same thing after we’ve gathered around a table for a holiday meal. We all hold hands and wait for her to say the prayer, which she always ends in the exact same way:

God bless the family. 

And this year, that took on an entirely new meaning. God bless the family for coming together in hard times. God bless the family for loving one another so unapologetically. And God bless the family for knowing when it’s time to be there, be present, and be together.

Thank you, Paw Paw, for instilling in all of us the importance of it.

I can only hope to someday create my own family as incredible as the one you’ve built for us.

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