Sunshine and Walks

"Tell me what to write," I said.

"About sunshine and walks," he said.

So here we are.

I recently celebrated the first anniversary of moving to Tennessee and living on my own. This time last year, I was just starting to find a good rhythm with my grandparents—a happy balance of enjoying their company and helping them in small, everyday ways. I was in a blind panic to find a job before my parents' generosity expired. I was already loving the warmer weather, the extra sunshine in the longer days, and the freedom of spending most those days however I wanted to.

As the days and months passed by, I developed my own routines. Routines became habits, habits became myth, and for two and a half thousand years, the Ring passed out of all knowledge. (I promise I'll update the @LOTR account before I hit my two-year anniversary in Tennessee.)

But the traditions I've developed here really have become some of my favorite memories.

I love Saturdays with my grandparents. We share breakfast and do crossword puzzles while my laundry spins in the background. I drive my grandparents to the grocery store and treat myself to a drink at Starbucks while I wait. Back at their house, I fill pill boxes with medicines and vitamins for the week before driving home with my clean laundry, happy tummy, and joyful heart.

The rest of the week is no less magical. I spend Friday nights on the phone with my mom, continuing our decade-long tradition of binge-eating, watching Gilmore Girls, and decompressing before the weekend. Every Sunday morning, my grandpa (whose dementia was compounded by a stroke last year) compliments me on how I find a good parking spot in the so-early-it's-still-empty church parking lot. Twice a week, I sit in a waiting room and read a book for twenty minutes while I wait to see if my body will have a wild reaction to my allergy shots. On weekdays, I wake up at the crack of dawn to make sure the posts for Stories from the Trenches are ready to publish before I set about making coffee and breakfast, picking out an outfit, and getting ready (at my new vanity!) for my day job. At night, I clean or dance or do yoga or read books or pester my boyfriend for blog post ideas.

And on very warm and very sunny days like today, I set out for a walk in the park behind my house. There is a beautifully maintained walking trail throughout the park, and my favorite bit winds through the woods and alongside a river. (Bonus features: tiny waterfall, tiny bridge, Tolkien-esque ruins of a stone dam.) It's the perfect excuse to close those dang activity rings on my Apple Watch and work my way through a major backlog of podcast episodes. It's also the perfect time to think about how grateful I am to have routines that bring me closer to people I love, that allow me to do things I love, and that leave me with filled with joy.

Learning to Say No

Every August, I sign up to participate in VEDA (Vlog Every Day in August) as part of a wonderful community of YouTube friends. I never find the time to finish more than ten videos, but I sign up and do my best every year because I enjoy the opportunity to share in a crazy, creative adventure with people I adore. Plus, I get to hoodwink my brother into helping me catch up on any topics/prompts I missed from the previous year, and those catch-up videos are the silliest and the best.

But by the third day, I realized that I just couldn't participate in VEDA on any level this year. My days are filled with work, my afternoons are reserved for my grandparents, and the few hours I have to myself in the evening are increasingly valuable to me. I'd like to think that I could live without Netflix, books, and naps for a month, but it turns out that I need those things in my life to keep me from losing my cool when seven different people try to drive the wrong way through the grocery store parking lot at the same time. (I'm pretty sure only six other people live in my town, so I'm not even sure how this is possible. BUT IT HAPPENS EVERY WEEK.)

Still, it took me a day or two of being consumed by shame before I was finally able to send a message to the group organizers and let them know that I'd be withdrawing from the project. And that is insane. I should not feel ashamed that my life doesn't have room for everything all at once.

I knew that was crazy, and I knew I had a book that would help me navigate all the gross feelings I was struggling with. So I picked up Brené Brown's Daring Greatly and started angry-reading. FIX MY PROBLEMS FASTER, BOOK.

Turns out™: setting boundaries is an important part of being a loving, vulnerable, wholehearted person who is "shame-resilient," as Brené puts it.

We have to believe we are enough in order to say, "Enough!" For women, setting boundaries is difficult because the shame gremlins are quick to weigh in: "Careful saying no. You'll really disappoint these folks. Don't let them down. Be a good girl. Make everyone happy." For men, the gremlins whisper, "Man up. A real guy could take this on and then some. Is the little mama's boy just too tired?"

So I'm working on my boundaries. Again. And while the yarnheads in the grocery store parking lot might not ever appreciate it, I sure do.

Hello from the Other Side

I live in rural Tennessee now. The scenery is beautiful, the people are almost too friendly, the pizza is terrible, and I'm pretty sure I made this exact same observation on Twitter shortly after moving here. Oops, yes.

Being on my own (and in a new state) has been wonderful and scary. I have been given one of those rare opportunities to reinvent myself, but because I started out liking who I am, I'm really just finding the courage to test my limits. Sometimes, I push myself to break bad habits (eating too much sugar, being five minutes late to everything) or to start new ones (exercising, journaling). I say yes to things I never would have tried before—hiking a half-marathon, playing piano with a renowned oboist, asking for help when I need it. I also hide in my house and eat Lucky Charms in bed when I lose the battle with anxiety and fear.

I have found a lot of inner strength this year, but I have also re-discovered the joy of community and the support that comes with that. When things are going well, I have people in my life to celebrate with me. When times are tough, I have people in my life to prop me up with love and encouragement, gifts, hugs, and so much homemade food. I would not have survived this year without my parents, brother, grandparents, extended family, boyfriend, friends, coworkers, and even my new church.

There are still many days and many nights when this adventure seems like too much for me, and I have too much pride to ask for help or to admit defeat. But I am learning. I practice self-compassion and vulnerability (and read about it often) because I like taking off the mask of perfection. I like that my life is a hot mess this year. I like that I have a small army of people who are always on my side. I like that there is room for failure and room to improve.

"It's a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy." —Lucille Ball