Day 7 – Keep writing

Sometimes when I sit down to write, it just seems impossible to get the pen moving. Thoughts circle in my brain, but never fully form. I glance around the room, look at my phone, even close my eyes for some inspiration that never seems to come.

Keep writing.

I put too much pressure on myself as a writer. I always have. It’s the reason I have so many projects started and never finished, the reason I have so many blank journals on my shelves collecting dust. I want the words that that flow and form on the page to be perfect. I don’t want to make mistakes, write something bland and lackluster. I don’t want to spend the time coaxing the words out not the page only to realize that they don’t matter.

That’s a lot of pressure.

That’s a lot of bullshit too.

There’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. Maybe we can come close sometimes, when the right mood hits and the stars align and we have some rare moments of quiet and clarity. But writing–like everything in life–is a process, not perfection. We make do with what we have in the moment. And then we learn and refine and evolve as we go along. And there is immense beauty and growth in that process.

Keep writing. Keep writing.

I return to my mantra whenever I get stuck, forcing myself to keep the pen moving, to push forward until the circling thoughts begin to break apart and reorganize again.

Keep writing.

Some days I fill pages with those words, but eventually something comes. Something always comes. Creativity rewards patience and persistence, and I’m often reminded that it can come from anywhere.

One of the little stumbling blocks I set for myself as a writer is the notion that if I can create the perfect writing space, the words will come. Manuscripts will suddenly get finished. Projects I’ve been slogging through for years will suddenly get polished and published. But my truth is–there is no “perfect” place to write. My place is here, wherever that might be in any given moment. The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is to simply make sure I always have a pen and a notebook with me. All the time.

My favorite spot is still Grand Central Station. There is no place that moves quite like it. But I’ve found inspiration in doctors’ waiting rooms, on bus rides, in airport terminals and hotel rooms, in grocery store lines and food courts. I’m even fond of showing up to meetings 10-15 minutes early and jotting down a few broken thoughts or sentences before people begin to arrive and break the silence.

This morning, I climbed out of bed at 5:00 and had an uninterrupted hour to myself, lounging in one of Richie and Diane’s old floral swivel chairs in the den. Electra circled for five or ten minutes licking her bowl clean, taking a lap of the room (her overgrown nails clicking on the hardwoods), licking her bowl again, and then finally retiring back upstairs to the bedroom. A little while later, I heard movement. The shower turned on. Now, Stevie is in the kitchen, banging cupboard doors open and closed as he empties the dishwasher and makes Cadence’s lunch. It’s time to get ready for another day and it feels good to keep writing.

Keep writing.

Keep writing.

Day 6 – A day of rest

Sundays are for resting. Electra takes this very seriously.

You know, we could learn a few things from this hound.

Day 5 – The best pizza in Lincoln

There were a lot of compromises when Stevie and I made the decision to leave New York. We left Stevie’s family, some of our best friends and most trusted mentors, and a whole lot of amazing food.

Every spot on the globe has something all its own when it comes to food–some signature dish or cuisine that is uniquely local and difficult to replicate. I think the one thing that differentiates New York is that the flavors of the world have quite literally migrated and established themselves in restaurants and bakeries and sidewalk stands and food trucks throughout the city. You could taste the world without ever leaving the five boroughs.

One of the things Stevie and I miss the most is the variety. After we started dating, we had a habit of hopping in the car and driving to Manhattan every Friday night for dinner. We had a favorite sushi restaurant, Yoko, in the West Village where we ate so often that we didn’t even need to order. The chefs knew our tastes and favorites, and would begin sending beautiful plates you couldn’t find on the menu over to our table as soon as we sat down. Other nights, we would just pick a flavor or type of cuisine, look up the name of some random restaurant that served it, and go.

We were never disappointed.

We haven’t been able to settle into quite the same routine since we left New York. Now that the kids are getting a little older (and Henry is finally entering the reasonable phase that follows the fit-throwing insanity of the two’s and early three’s), we’re hoping to get back to being adventurous. Sure, there aren’t nearly as many options here in Lincoln, but there is some really great food in this town and a lot of places we haven’t even had a chance to try yet.

The one food we have thoroughly tried here though (and have been thoroughly disappointed with) is the pizza.

Nobody does pizza like New York.

We tried every pizza place in Lincoln since moving here in 2011. Every. Single. One.

Lazzari’s was our frontrunner there for six months or so back in 2011-2012. Crust was almost true NY-style and the sauce was decent. Then one day the sauce started tasting a little too sweet. (Hear this now people, sauce should NEVER be sweet! You add pinches of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. That’s it. If it’s sweet AT ALL, you’re doing it wrong!) We tried again a few weeks later, sauce was still sweet and the crust was burned. One more try a few months after that and we had too-sweet sauce, overdone crust, and so much extra cheese piled on that the pizza slices were drooping in our hands even folded in half. Strike three. We’ve never gone back.

Yia Yia’s gets a pass because it’s unique, and they have some delicious flavor combinations. We dig it, but the ultra-thin cracker-like crust keeps us from classifying it as traditional pizza. It’s good, but we stick to small doses.

MoMo Pizzeria & Ristorante is the only place we will actually endorse. The pizzas you’ll find on the menu are Neopolitan style and wood-fired, and there are some really incredible flavors. Stevie has always been a fan of plain cheese pizza, but even he enjoyed sampling some of the unique toppings like Lobster & Shrimp Hollandaise and Prosciutto & Egg. One day, by chance, Stevie found that by asking the server if we could have just a plain cheese pizza for Cadence that he could get a smaller version of the closest to true NY-style pizza we’d found since leaving New York. Major props to MoMo (for both the pizza and for having hands down some of the finest food in Lincoln).

Still, because we just couldn’t seem to find any true NY-style pizza, I made it my mission to figure it out. And I did, back in 2015. You can CLICK HERE to read all about it. Since then, we haven’t bothered to order to eat a pizza anywhere but in our own kitchen, and we don’t have a desire to.

Well…unless we hope a plane and head back to New York. In that case, we might have to make an exception.

Tonight, it was homemade pizza for dinner, and I couldn’t have been any prouder than the moment I looked across the table and saw my kids’ New York come out. Henry had a slice in each hand and was eating it almost as fast as I could make it, and Cadence was folding slices in half like a pro.

What can we say? We’ve taught them well.

Day 2 – Letter to Dr. Nakhai

One down, fifty-one to go.

I decided to send the first letter to a woman who has been on my mind a lot lately because it’s been too long since I’ve seen her and I’ve been missing her like crazy. My college English professor, advisor, mentor, and friend–Dr. Mandana Nakhai.

Last May, I found out she was being honored for her long career as she prepared to take a short sabbatical. Upon her return, she would be diving into her next adventure as inaugural Thomas Green Chair Distinguished Professor of English and Dean of the Fellows Program. I wrote a little something in her honor. It certainly doesn’t express my deep admiration and respect of this incredible woman, but it’s something.

Enjoy.

I met Dr. Nakhai one cold day in February in the middle of Schoenfeld Gym. I was more than 1,500 miles from home and she was, by far, the most poised and elegant woman I’d ever met. She was dressed in a flawlessly tailored wine-colored suit, complete with a jewel-toned scarf, matching stiletto heels, and delicate gold brooch. She stood maybe 5-feet tall (even in heels), yet her regal presence filled every inch of that crowded room. 

From that very first moment, I was in awe of her. 

I’d spent weeks practicing a formal introduction. I wanted to make a good impression visiting the colleges on my short list. But Dr. Nakhai didn’t need the introduction. As soon as I said my name, she smiled and squeezed my hand and told me how much she’d enjoyed reading the portfolio I’d submitted. She fixed those warm brown eyes on mine and for the next ten minutes she made me feel like the most important person in the world.

Being a student in Dr. Nakhai’s classes always meant that you were going to spend the semester experiencing a healthy mix of excitement and fear. Her love of literature and writing is infectious, and the deep discussions of the significance of the canary in A Jury of Her Peers or the archetypal images in Huckleberry Finn set my mind ablaze. I’d find myself re-reading passages and scribbling notes in the margins of all my books as I eagerly awaited the next class session.

Until, inevitably, the semester would catch up with me, and I’d have one of those weeks where I spent too much time hanging out with friends in the Quad or playing video games and I’d sit in class silently praying that she wouldn’t call on me until I had a chance to at least skim through the assigned reading or maybe piggyback off someone else’s answers to cover the fact that I was ridiculously ill-prepared.

Some weeks I wasn’t the only culprit, but there’s no fooling Mandana Nakhai. Not even five minutes into class and she would notice that the pauses were too lengthy and the answers too vague and her voice would ratchet up an octave as she attempted to jar the room full of rapt undergraduates from our panic-stricken stupor. 

“Claaaaaaas! Are you awake?! Are you alive?! Did you just eat lunch?! Open your Harbraaaace!”

I visited Dr. Nakhai’s office hours like it was my job—sometimes with questions, sometimes carrying the umpteenth draft of a paper I wanted to get more feedback on, sometimes to nag her about spending far too many hours in her office trying like hell to cultivate the young minds in her care. 

But mostly, I just wanted more time. 

I loved the melodic lilt of her voice, the way her accent rolled words exotically off her tongue. I loved circling back on interrupted class discussions and hearing her thoughts on everything from feminist theory and fashion to politics and pop culture. I loved listening to her stories, how she once sewed her sleeping nanny’s nightgown to the bedsheets as a joke and how she felt the day she moved across the ocean to her new home. 

I even loved it when she called me on my bullshit, and insisted I own up to my mistakes.

If she is guilty of anything in this life, it’s that she cares too much and gives everything she has without asking for a whole lot in return.

It’s not uncommon to catch her in her office at odd hours, and I made a habit of knocking on her door or dialing her extension from the nearest callbox whenever I saw her office light burning far too late in the evening. I learned that first summer I spent on campus that popsicles are one of the more effective ways to lure her out for a short break and a breath of fresh air. Somehow she can’t seem to ignore the pleas of a persistent college student standing outside her window hollering at her to “Hurry please and get out here before these things melt!”

Dr. Nakhai made education her life and invested the last 31 years at Concordia because she loves learning and she loves students (even the troublemakers like me). She knows that knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we can give, both to ourselves and to others. And even if she always seems to set the bar so high that you’ll be running and jumping and stretching yourself farther than you ever dreamed you could to reach it, you can be sure she’ll be standing there in the front row cheering the loudest when you finally catch hold and pull yourself up.

She’s made of silk and fire and diamonds and steel. And she’s got the sort of quiet strength and unyielding tenacity that can move mountains, if she truly believes they’re worth moving.

I’m a better scholar because she is my teacher, and I’m a better person because she is my friend. I wouldn’t be where I am—I wouldn’t be here at all—without her.

And wherever this new adventure leads, I have no doubts that it will be absolutely fabulous.

Day 1 – I Got Goals

The first day of 2019 started just like the last day of 2018–lying in bed, trying to soak up a few extra moments of sleep before getting out of bed, trying to soak up the last moments of laziness left in this holiday break. But even if the days are largely indistinguishable outside the numbers on the calendar, there is something exciting about the beginning of a new year. The next 365 days stretch out before me with the unblemished smoothness of a field of fresh fallen snow. I’m holding a blank notebook in my hand, and I’m excited to see what sort of adventures will unfold.

If we’re taking a bird’s eye view, I’d say 2018 was a pretty good year. (But you know I default to optimism). We finally finished the renovation project on our investment property. The kiddos are both healthy and doing well in school. Stevie got to spend a few days in New Orleans (even if it was for a work conference instead of a vacation or our long-awaited honeymoon). And I had the opportunity to step into an exciting new role at work.

But all that said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement (there always is). And there is a definite need to find some balance. The kids are hitting an age where we’re busy with activities. Cadence is currently involved in swim team, piano and guitar lessons, and wants to do dance team at school next year. Henry is starting soccer in January. And 2018 was definitely a year where Stevie and I both felt pulled in a few too many directions–bringing work home nights and weekends, serving on committees, playing in sports leagues, volunteering. The new year gives us an opportunity to try and find that balance–to scale back where we need to scale back and to tackle some new challenges.

For me, regaining balance means setting aside the time to do the things that feed my soul.

It also means protecting that time.

My writing has always been the thing that keeps me balanced, yet it’s always the first thing that gets shoved aside by…well…by anything and everything else that comes along. I’m constantly back burnering projects, using work or kids or other obligations as an excuse to push my writing to the bottom of my priority list. Neglecting my writing and shutting down that creative outlet always ends up taking a toll. So, that’s where my focus will be in 2019. Well, that and continuing to work on getting physically healthier–that’s aways a work in progress.

So, here are the goals I set for myself:

  1. Write something every day – Even if it’s just one sentence, I’m committing to putting pen to paper every day in 2019 and I’m going to fire up this blog again to help hold myself accountable. Brace yourselves.
  2. Write one letter a week – There’s something fabulous about a handwritten letter, and I’ve been seriously neglecting keeping in touch with some of the people I love the most who live far away. So, I’m going to spur my writing momentum by choosing one person each week and send a handwritten note.
  3. Read one book a week – Cadence had an assignment over the holiday break that included counting all the books in the house. There are 1,571. Call me crazy, but I’m ridiculously proud that we have cultivated such a library. But at the same time, I’m ashamed that the busyness of life has stunted my reading just as much as it has my writing. So, I’m recommitting to reading by challenging myself to read one book every week in 2019. I’ve already got a few lined up, and I’m ready to dive in.
  4. Exercise for 30 minutes each day – Walking, using the rowing machine in the basement, Insanity, fitness apps, yoga…doesn’t really matter what it is, I’m committed to getting in better shape this year. In 2018, I managed to shed almost 15 pounds just by paying closer attention to what I eat and cutting down on sugar and empty calories. Now it’s time to get my ass moving.

How about you? Got some goals for the new year? Share your goals in the comments and we can be accountabilibuddies!

Alright 2019, let’s get this started!

School, Soccer, and Style

The end of summer rush hit us hard around here. Between our trip to New York, Henry’s birthday, school shopping, appointments, paperwork, and trying to figure out what our schedule is going to look like with Cadence starting 1st grade and me starting a new job on Thursday, we’ve barely had a minute to sit down and breathe. But we’re not complaining. We’re excited to turn the page on this brand new chapter. And in those few free moments we managed to find these past weeks, we’ve had a whole lot of fun.

Cadence and I had a special girls’ day to go get her hair done. She’s been asking to dye her hair for quite awhile not. I’m not sure whether the obsession started because several of her favorite cartoon characters have funky-colored hair, or because she saw a few photos of me with pink/purple/red/blue hair from my college days. Either way, Stevie and I knew it was something she really wanted to try, so we decided it would be a fun back-to-school treat to let her give it a go. Miss C has always had a very unique sense of style, and both Stevie and I are supportive of Cadence’s desire to sport a little extra color. So C and I headed to the College of Hair Design last week for a cut and a little color (she asked to dye her whole head; we agreed that we’ll start with a streak). And other than Cadence getting a little bored when the bleaching lasted more than an hour, we had a blast and were both so excited with the results.

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Yeah, our kid is cool.

Sunday, Cadence started fall soccer with the YMCA. We thought we’d give it a try since she’d done so well in the Happy Feet league. It was the perfect day–sunny, warm but not too hot–and Stevie, Henry, and I had fun watching Cadence play. Team Coventry ended up losing 2-1, but it was a great game, and Cadence had two awesome breakaways and really controlled the ball well. It’s amazing how good she is for only starting to play soccer in January.

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Since Cadence is running around looking so stylish, I figured it was time for Mr. H to finally get the haircut he’s been so desperately needing. Little man’s hair was hanging down into his eyes, and he’s been sporting a full mullet in the back for quite some time now. These days, the boy is obsessed with books and Mickey Mouse, so I put some Mickey cartoons on the tv and gave him a board book to look at and dove right in. Other than stealing the spray bottle from me and demanding his own comb, he did awesome, and I think I managed to give him a pretty straight cut. But he looks so different! Seriously, he doesn’t even look like my baby anymore, and I don’t know how but cutting his hair made him look taller. Long or short hair, he’s one handsome little man.

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Somehow we managed to fit it all in and get everything done, just in time for Miss C’s first day of 1st grade today. I can’t even believe she’s this old already, and it amazed me how mature she looked standing there on the front step impatiently waiting for me to get the obligatory first day of school photos. Impatient or not, she couldn’t hold the serious face long, especially after I pointed out how Electra was creeping on her in the background.

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And now H-man and I are waiting for her to get home so we can hear all about the first day. And then I’ll have one more day home tomorrow before I head back to the office life and start my new position at the University of Nebraska. I can’t wait! Just when I don’t think it’s even possible, life always finds a way to getting more interesting. But with Stevie, Cadence, Henry, and Electra along for the ride, I’m ready for any new adventure that comes my way.