New year, still here (ish)

I think 2020 was a death of sorts for this blog.

I wonder if 2021 will see a rebirth.

Throughout the pandemic, I have taken so many notes, and started several drafts. But then the window of time to finish my thoughts disappears, and the impulse fades. By the time I come back to my words, they no longer compel me, or are simply outdated.

There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, sometimes I contribute more to the world by saying less. (And frankly, I wish more people would come to this same realization.)

But writing well is as much about practice as talent or genius — maybe more so — and I don’t want to get too rusty.

I suppose if anything is going to make it “to print,” it must be finished quickly. I must finish it. Set aside perfectionist tendencies. Seize upon the moment, rather than hoping for more time later.

Maybe, too, I should think smaller, as I advised in my most recent post for Writer Unboxed.

Speaking of small… A personal and professional highlight from 2020:

I wrote a “Tiny Love Story” and it was accepted for publication in the New York Times, appearing in both their digital and print editions!

Pandemic life in photos

Life has gotten smaller in many ways… but there is sweetness still.

One of the coolest things we have done since the pandemic started is this butterfly growing kit. (Thanks, Trisha!) IB enjoyed it, but as not as much as Andy and I did, haha.

There has been bouncing…

And baking…

And growing…

And family walks…

And “lite home-schooling”…

And one vacation to South Haven, MI (which was busier than we would have liked, but we managed it safely, I think)…

And this month, my baby boy turned one.

In some ways, everything is different. In some ways, nothing is different at all.

Times like these

A few nights ago, I was checking in with a friend about his small business — which had to survive Hurricane Harvey not so long ago — and he used the phrase, “in times like these.”

I laughed.

As if we have ever lived through a time like this.

A pandemic. A global pandemic.

How can this be real?

For a few moments, as I was cleaning up toys and washing dishes, which I do every night after putting the kids to bed, I had the strangest feeling. That this wasn’t real at all. Not exactly a dream, and definitely not fake, but just… not real. Almost like something I had read about in a novel.

It’s easy to forget — or choose not to believe — when the enemy you’re fighting is invisible. When it doesn’t touch you directly.


I had to remind myself of China. Of Italy. Of Seattle and New York City. Of the points on the map getting closer and closer to home. Of the numbers getting larger. Of the personal accounts I’ve been reading on Twitter. Of my healthcare friends on the front lines.

Then it sunk in again. This is real. This is happening. We are living through history. A generation-defining moment. It’s not end of days, but I don’t know what the other side of this looks like.

I don’t even know if there is an “other side.”

My neighbor keeps posting pictures of his daughter playing in the big, wooded park near our homes. She examines a sunset-red fungus growing on a fallen tree trunk. She shows off a leaf. She poses in her knit hat and woolen gloves, smiling.

My husband said he hopes that IB remembers some of what’s going on. At first I stared at him like he was insane. Then I thought about it some more.

Maybe it’s not so crazy. Because how our kids are experiencing this time is so different from how we are. We adults are anxious, frustrated, exhausted. But most children — the young ones, anyway — are just excited to be home from school. To spend more time with their parents. To play and laugh and be held.

It’s kind of wonderful? Because it’s a reminder that even in the worst of times, there is joy.

(And for the people who are not safe in their homes, who are stuck with angry voices or hands… my heart breaks.)

I keep hearing that by the end of this, we will all know someone who has died from COVID-19.

I fear that it’s not going to be who, but rather how many.

RB is nearly 8 months old now, and every night, he falls asleep in my arms. This is an indulgence, a bad habit I don’t want to give up yet. Those precious minutes after he falls asleep, but before I transfer him to the crib, are a form of self-care for me. I watch him, eyes closed, simply breathing, wholly at peace. I try to absorb that.

If I’m feeling bold, I might nuzzle his soft, fat cheek, or kiss his nose.

Yes, even in times like these, there is joy.

Two very different musicals

Andy and I recently saw the touring production of Les Miserables, which is one of his favorite musicals. A few years ago when he was traveling overseas a lot for business, he would often play the Hugh Jackman movie version — or even just that soundtrack — in the background while doing work on his laptop. Thank you, Delta in-flight entertainment.

I love Les Mis too, in part because I grew up listening to it at my best friend Alex’s house. We would play the Original Broadway Recording on CD, as a lullaby when going to bed, or sometimes as an accompaniment to our make-believe games.

“On My Own,” sung by the character Eponine, holds a special place in my heart, and is possibly the ultimate ballad about unrequited love. I remember singing it to myself often during middle school. My locker was right next to my crush’s, thanks to alphabetized assignments. Hopefully he never heard me humming it under my breath.

As with everything these days, I watched Les Mis through a new lens this time. Now being a parent, I identified so strongly with Valjean’s love for Cosette, his desire to do what would make her happy, even if it put him in danger, or took her away from him.

I also found myself noticing and appreciating new things, like how the same two or three riffs dominate the music, coming in and out, like themes weaving through the story. And in fact, the songs do parallel the way that the plot winds back on itself at times, with all its “twists,” the characters crossing paths with each other in so many different iterations. These “coincidences” could feel melodramatic, like a bad soap opera, but they don’t, because the story is grounded in history, social commentary, and emotional truth.

Also a musical, but completely opposite in tone, is the new TV series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. It’s kind of like a grown-up Glee. (Or at least, the first couple seasons of Glee, which were great. I stopped watching after that.) The main actress, Jane Levy, is remarkably charming, and the supporting cast is solid too. As you can probably tell from the bright colors, it’s an overall upbeat show, but there’s a streak of somberness — primarily in the storyline about Zoey’s dad — that adds unexpected depth. Exactly what I seek in my entertainment these days: optimism and heart.

Only four episodes have aired so far, but I find myself eagerly awaiting more.

Favorite books of 2019

I was very pleased with my pace of reading in the first half of 2019, averaging 3 books a month! Then in the second half, after my son was born, I read exactly 0, haha. Oh well.

Out of 18 books, not a single one was a dud. I think because, with my time being so constrained, I’ve had to get more savvy — or maybe more ruthless — in my reading choices. Regardless, these were my favorites:

ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW was a deftly written personal examination of race, adoption, and motherhood. Completely my jam. I plan to do a “Reading Reflections” post on it later this year.

THE LAST BEST STORY was also completely my jam, but in a different way. A teen rom-com featuring two high school newspaper nerds, with witty dialogue and great character depth.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE is a dense but straightforward guide for people who want to do better. I appreciated how practical it was, and I felt like I could immediately make use of things that I learned from it.

And finally, OTHER WORDS FOR HOME is the third published novel by my dear friend Jasmine Warga, and I truly think she has leveled up once again. Told in verse, this book is the story of a young girl forced to leave her home in Syria and make a new one here in America. Full of insight and emotion, humor and heart.

As for 2020, I’m off to a slow start, but I know that as my son gets older and eventually joins his sister at daycare/school, I’ll get my reading time back.

Click here for previous years’ favorites.

My husband’s love of reading continues to flourish, and I take great pleasure in having helped to foster that. It’s so fun to talk about books and authors with him now — and about the thoughts they inspire, and the way various stories intersect with our lives.

These were his favorite reads of 2019:

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