30 things to do before I turn 31.

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Happy new decade to me! Here are some things I hope to live out in the year to come.

1. Consider what I actually need in terms of amount. Too often I find I don't think before I consume--whether that's clothes, dessert, or social media.

2. Continue building up strength/cardio. 15-pound weights, you're up next!

3. Get a dog. ALERT: THIS HAS HAPPENED! Sweet Lucy the 4-year-old black lab joined our family 2 weeks ago!

4. Drink a gallon of water per day. Because I want to see if I feel any different, and I know it will be good for me either way.

5. Feel free to say no. This isn't saying I'll shirk responsibilities, but I will consider what I take on as a responsibility in the first place.

6. Pray the hours again. I used Phyllis Tickle's Prayers for Lent Through Easter from the Divine Hours for my Lenten practice, and I'd like to do her prayers for Advent through Epiphany this winter.

7. Build authentic author platform. I created my own professional Facebook page back in the summer, and I've barely touched it since. Why? I think while some of it is legitimate forgetfulness or busy-doing-other-things, a lot of it is due to "imposter syndrome." Who am I to have a professional author page on Facebook? What do I have to say and share that people will want to hear? There are so many voices out there already. This year, I'd like to get past this and simply share what resonates with me--whether or not people end up reading it.

8. Meet more neighbors. We've already started doing this, but there are plenty of folks on our street that we still don't know. How to change that... cookies, perhaps? 

9. Live our own journey. The world we're in makes it so easy to compare our lives to others', and I want to strive to, well, ignore that, and appreciate where Sean and I are on our path.

10. Pay more attention to/ask more questions about/be more aware about money and finance. I am true to my English major self in that I really don't like or understand the intricacies here. I have a husband who does, so too often I lean on him for that support--not that I don't appreciate his strengths in that area, but I think that it would ultimately make me feel more confident in multiple aspects of life if I were more tuned in here.

11. Continue meditating and journaling. This has been an important part of my daily morning routine for almost 2 years now, and I'm proud of having kept it up. In 2017, I've added a third element: going through my Wendell Berry collection page by page and reading a poem aloud each day (now the dog gets to listen in).

12. Eat healthily (most of the time). Self-explanatory.

13. Seek out more writing continuing ed opportunities. I had the opportunity to attend a writing conference this summer, and did a 6-week writing workshop this fall--both inspired my words and gave me new writing communities to connect to. I'd really love to go back to the Collegeville Institute sooner rather than later.

14. Submit my writing to publications. This is something that I honestly forget about as a writer. I guess that partially means that I write first and foremost for myself, which feels positive--but I think that I also shy away ("forget") about submitting pieces because of (why else?) the fear of rejection. Plus, I write new pieces less frequently than I'd like. May all of this awareness spur me to put my voice out there more in my 31st year.

15. Run at least two 5Ks. Last year I successfully ran my first two 5Ks ever, finished both of them running, and had a great time. I'm already signed up for one in a couple of weeks. I haven't trained as much as a jogger, but I truly believe that walking up five flights of stairs at work and strength training on the regular have influenced my cardio capabilities more than anything else.

16. Quit using "nothing" as a response. You know how someone asks you "What's up?" and you say "Nothing"? Or "How are you?" and the word that blurts out of your mouth is simply, "Fine"? Sometimes that works, but most of the time I find those are covers for more complex emotions I'm experiencing. If I feel comfortable with the person asking, I want to be more honest about where I am in that moment.

17. Do yoga regularly. I'm excited that this has already begun to begin, thanks to a new class being held at my workplace. When I've tried to do yoga on my own in the past (or with a video instructor), I've felt impatient--it hasn't felt as "exercise-y" as strength training or cardio, it goes more slowly, it takes more concentration. But at this phase of life, with a great in-person instructor and friends in the class, I am really enjoying it and savoring how my body and mind feel during and after class. I'm even making it out of the house early one day a week, which tells you how much I want to be there!

18. Clean out my email inboxes. When do we ever have time for this? It feels so small and unnecessary because it's not visibly piling up on a desk. But mentally... that's another story.

19. Write paper letters more often. I just got some beautiful new stationary for my birthday, so this should not be hard.

20. Have a writing goal for each week. I'm not exactly sure what this looks like yet. I journal for myself everyday, so I'd like it to be different from that. A blog post? A shitty first draft of a new piece? Plugging along on my manuscript? I need to explore this further.

21. Advocate for myself at the doctor. This is something I'm not very good at doing, and I want to strengthen this "muscle" as it were. Too often, I feel like I'm at the mercy of the doctor's schedule, and that what they tell me is what it is. But then I get home and I have more questions, and I feel like an idiot for not thinking to ask in person, and I feel like an idiot for calling and asking them, and... why? Because I care what people think of me. But when it comes to my health, my well-being, I need to be the most important person in the room, and in my mind.

22. Keep home desk clean/organized. Check back with me on this at "40 things to do before I turn 41."

23. Be generous. In a myriad of ways.

24. Consider the source. Good advice for all of us these days.

25. Write down all passwords somewhere. Ick/ack/don't yell at me for not having done this yet in life.

26. Make a landscaping plan for our backyard and begin to implement it. Now, if only this didn't cost money...

27. When I'm riding the bus, no Internet; only reading, podcasts, or quiet. For reasons two-fold: stop using my phone as a tool for boredom, and save data.

28. Make actual photo albums. I haven't done this in years and it used to be one of my favorite pastimes. I think it's partially because now I have photos of such random daily life (thanks, Instagram) that it doesn't really feel like they fit anywhere... and yet I don't want my memories to disappear from view in the overcrowded cloud.

29. Apologize only when necessary. I'm one of countless women with the apology complex, saying "I'm sorry" more than I say most anything else. Sometimes it's meant as something different--I think of it more like "excuse me" at times--but in many moments I really do say it to bypass any discomfort at something I think I've done wrong (but often haven't really), or something I know I haven't done wrong but want to be told that it's okay anyway. It's almost a manipulation tool sometimes (I'm going to apologize even though I know I don't have to so I can be told how good I am!). And sometimes I just say it because it's habit. ("I'm sorry for saying I'm sorry" has come out of my mouth more than once.) But I want to be as mindful as possible about my apologies--are they deserved? Did I do something that warrants it? Am I using it to achieve something other than forgiveness? When I do need to apologize, may it be genuine, and may it be said only one time--with no need to lay it on in fear that the first didn't take.

30. Continue learning and listening--and acting--in the fight for racial justice and equity. I have felt really blessed to have opportunities to participate in dialogues with my sisters and brothers of color and with my fellow white siblings over this past year, and I pray that they keep going. I also pray that I have the courage and strength to bring more white people into these conversations and listening sessions. The key for me has been recognizing that I'm a strong human being and I am not being attacked personally--but I do want to help change things, and in order to do that I must acknowledge the realities of white privilege and that I benefit from it. White supremacy is real and today we are seeing that in forms extreme and moderate (both incredibly harmful) more than I can remember in my lifetime. If you want to talk with me more about this, please reach out. 

BONUS: I ended with a similar mantra last year, but here it is again, as we journey on in this divisive time: Approach all with compassion. Combat the fear of others, of the other, that has infiltrated our society. Do not propel those irrational fears forward into the world, but instead act as a vessel for kindness, listening, and understanding.


The Birthday Lists: An Archive

25 things to do before I turn 26

26 things to do before I turn 27

27 things to do before I turn 28

28 things to do before I turn 29

29 things to do before I turn 30

10(ish) lessons I've "learned" in my 20s.


I turn 30 on Tuesday (heads up, pretty much all of my recent posts are going to say this). A new year is always something to celebrate, but this decade mark is the first time that I feel like I can look back and see specific experiences and moments in each of the last ten years that enriched my internal and external perspectives. While my first two decades certainly shaped the core of who I am, 20-30 watched me navigate the whole being-who-I-am thing in the midst of shifting contexts, AKA turning into an adult. And so, because I am an INFJ (and obviously the coolest person you know), I present 10(ish) lessons I've "learned" in my 20s.

(Ish) because there's more than 10. "Learned" because, welp, I'm still learning most of them.

20: Being a "floater" is a positive thing. This was the year that I felt separate from what I had considered to be my closest group of friends--but in striking out on my own I realized that I was actually close with a number of different groups and individuals across campus. This was a gift in that it gave me a variety of people and friendships (still does!), and it also reminded me that the friend I can truly always count on is myself.

21: Home can mean many places. Building on those lessons of friendship, 21 took me to England for a semester, my first time truly away from places where I felt "at home"--and then Norwich and the University of East Anglia became home too. Would it have continued to feel that way if I'd been there longer for 3 months, or would homesickness have taken over? Who knows. But it taught me that I could get to know a place that was once completely unknown. "Wasn't it amazing? " people would ask when I returned to the States. And the answer was, no, it wasn't amazing--not in the way that they meant it. What amazed me was that I could find a church and a favorite cereal, not to mention friends, in a brand-new place, and that it became normal. That feeling returned when I interned at a church in Virginia the next summer, another city and people that by the end, I hated to leave.

22: Bite the bullet and share your feelings, even if rejection follows. Oof, 22 held a lot of lessons (including "Even when you graduate from college and it feels like the world is ending, you will survive"), but this is the one that feels most important. Having the reassuring schedule of academia ripped out from under me made me feel vulnerable in a myriad of ways, and that led me to reach out to a couple of guys I liked more directly than I ever had before. None of them ended how I would have liked at the time, but I felt (how many more times can I say "feel" in this paragraph, y'all?) a sense of power that came with being honest, coming to accept reality rather than clinging to the long-standing "what if?" purgatory that had been hounding my head/heart, and ultimately moving forward.

23: Keep meeting new people and trying new things. This was the year I traveled to Nigeria, met my future husband, landed my first full-time job, made "real world" friends, moved into my own place, got to know my new city, developed my own routine--became my own adult, really. 

24: Living by yourself is important. My mom always stressed to me the importance of living alone for at least a period of time in your life, and I plan to say the same to my own children someday. It was important for my personal growth to find and secure a place to live, pay my own rent and bills, decorate my home how I wanted, stay up late cooking dinner, host guests, feel the sense of quiet that took over at night when I was the only being inside the house.

25: Stay in touch with people who matter. In the midst of Phase I of friends-getting-married that began around this time, I was consistently reminded of how much it meant to me to be able to witness people that I had known for years now experiencing another milestone in their lives--and then dance like crazy afterwards. Nourishing these bonds even from a distance has made a difference.

26: Make the trip home for that final goodbye. Until I walked out the door to my car, the spontaneous trip felt difficult to justify--but of course some of that was denial that it was even happening or necessary at all. Thankfully, my gut (and my mother) was right. And I'll never regret it.

27: You do not have to be who you were as a child. This was the year we moved back home and got married and I started a new job. It was tough. I loved being back in beloved spaces, but sometimes it seemed like I had to "combat" the childhood perspective of me that old friends held, because that's how they still saw me. The best way to get over this, I determined, was to be myself as I am now, and to not apologize for being different than my child/teen self, or play into expectations. (The passage of time helped, too.)

For these two most recent years, 28 and 29, I'm moved to share two lessons each--one inward, one outward (some of both, really).

A) Cultivate habits to lower stress. At the end of 27, I was feeling fraught about numerous things, mostly brought on by a dreaded doctor's appointment that wouldn't come for months. I felt panicky and anxious more than I ever had, in the car, at night, lots of places. The appointment came and went with no major revelation, which helped, but I still had this sense that I was now "conditioned" to experience stress and panic in ways that I hadn't before. And then a woman in my small group mentioned the Headspace app, which I actually made time for in the mornings to practice meditation. I returned to an old habit of journaling. I thought more consciously about breathing. It didn't all fix itself right away, but I slowly started to feel a difference.

B) Accomplishing difficult goals is possible (and rewarding). It took me four years after college to finally decide to pursue an MFA in creative writing. And then it took an arduous two years of reading, writing, and even teaching (all while holding down a full-time job) to reach graduation with a completed manuscript. Sometimes, looking back, I can barely believe that I actually did it. I'm not really sure how I did. But I know it took work, encouragement, days of inspiration, days of flatness, reading on the bus and writing on weekends, and the ever-strong influence of deadlines and people counting on me. I look back at that achievement because it wasn't something that I necessarily expected of myself--it wasn't a required step like other schooling had been. It was a step I chose, a step I chose to stick with and complete.

A) It's okay to say no. I've always been a people-pleaser, which I used to think translated into pleasing myself (if no one's mad at me, if everyone likes me, I'm pretty easy to please). But I've reached a point in the past 12 months where there were some extracurriculars on my plate that I wanted to be doing in theory, but not in actuality. I had to acknowledge the difference there. The only reason I was still doing them was because I didn't want to let down people who I care about. That might come off sounding a little selfish, and in this case, I think it's okay. These days, I'm keeping my personal priorities in mind: self, family, health, friends, writing, reading, things that strengthen my mind and my soul (and sometimes a good old-fashioned 21st century binge-watch).

B) The ongoing fight for justice and equality in this country requires white people to actively acknowledge the evils of white supremacy and white privilege and push against them. Seek justice using the strengths of your own personality. Listen and learn without feeling defensive or accused. White guilt is unnecessary and useless. Self-awareness is key. This is a post in itself, to be sure, but all of these lessons have risen to the surface for me this year, and I'm looking forward to continuing to explore and act on them as my 30s get underway.  

That last bold bit of 29B strikes me: Self-awareness is key. If I could sum up my 20s in one phrase (ha), I think that would be it.

Bring on the next decade!

P.S. Not gonna lie, the collage was fun to make.

29 things to do before I turn 30.

Good morning from me as Year 30 begins! I'm trying to ignore my growling stomach before my annual physical this morning by putting together my list of hopes and goals for the coming year. This is a fun and helpful practice that i picked up from my friend and mentor Rosie Molinary the year I turned 25. While I don't tend to do an official recap of each year's list to see how "well" I did on achieving these things before my next birthday, when I do go back through them, I definitely get a sense that many of these elements of my life have slowly shifted in the direction I wanted them to go. Sometimes it takes a couple of birthdays to see any movement, and that's fine, too. I also notice that there are often repetitions--lessons I need to keep learning or areas of life that I still want to flesh out and enrich. With each year, I have the privilege of adding one more number to the list, another way to intentionally seek a full life.

1. Walk 10,000 steps every weekday. I know it's doable because I'm currently doing it. We'll see how winter factors in, because a lot of these steps currently happen outside, but I hope I'll just suck it up, grab my jacket/hat/gloves, and head out anyway.

2. Increase jogging capabilities from one mile to three. Big news, guys: the other week, I discovered that I can jog one mile (four laps) on a flat track without being too, too out of breath. Mind. Blown. I'd like to up that, if possible. Who knows if hills will ever be involved.

3. Visit a new place. This shows up on my list pretty much every year, and I think every year it's come to pass. I know we'll be heading to Chicago for a wedding next year--yes, sadly, Chicago is a new place for me--and who knows what else will appear on the horizon? (Any suggestions?)

4. Organize our home office. This is definitely a repeater. It's a mess. And I know it can be less messy and more actually usable as an office.

5. Hang more photos and art on the walls. And get said photos and art framed first!

6. Go to the mountains. I'm hankering for cool air, sweet views, and hike-sore muscles.

7. Lead at least one one-day writing workshop. I currently lead a writing group every other week, but I know that not everyone who's interested is able to attend when that's scheduled. So I'm hoping to put together a couple of opportunities for people to just show up once and learn about life writing (and do some writing, of course!).

8. Add a couple of new dinner recipes to my repertoire (and keep trying bread). Sean is the main cook around here, hallelujah, but I'd like to have more than just one recipe that I can throw together easily, especially as he takes on more responsibility at work. Also, I would love to someday not have to buy bread at the store.

9. Eat a wider variety of vegetables. We basically have broccoli and salad every week, and I know we're missing out on so many more! (Any suggestions on veggies or how to prepare them?)

10. Increase hand weight amounts. This I definitely count as a success thanks to earlier lists; I moved from 3s and 5s to 8s and 10s, and while I'll probably keep those as my primary weights, I'd love to be able to comfortably use 12s and 15s.

11. Write and send real birthday cards. A way to purposefully connect with important people in my life all over the country, not to mention a practice that is going out of fashion thanks to the Internet.

12. Practice real life vulnerability. This one and #13 really feel important to me this year, and I'm crediting and thanking writer/blogger Rachel Held Evans for both of them. RHE mentioned this in a webinar that I took the other week about developing your writing voice for memoir/blogging. She stressed that too often, we think that being really open (too open?) and honest in a Facebook status or anywhere online means that we're being truly vulnerable. But real vulnerability, she says, is actually practiced away from our screens and devices, in real life conversations and situations. It is here that we cultivate our relationships and learn about our true selves and others; not on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, no matter how helpful those platforms can sometimes be for expressing yourself. So, as someone who enjoys and appreciates the Internet and social media for making connections to friends new and old, I want to be purposeful and aware of practicing vulnerability, openness, and honesty in my flesh-and-blood daily life.

13. Keep good secrets. Connected to this, RHE says that it's important to "keep good secrets"-- a.k.a. don't broadcast everything in your life on social media, y'all. Don't take a picture of everything. Lessen your grip on FOMO (fear of missing out) (or having people think you're missing out because you're not taking a picture of it!) and realize that some moments--many moments, if we really stop to think about it-- are meant for just you, or just you and your closest people. Not everything needs a ton of virtual likes, and or a ton of time spent wondering why you didn't get as many likes. I think I struggle with this sometimes, because I do really enjoy sharing, but taking Saturdays off from social media has been a huge step.

14. Visit friends in NYC. I just threw this in here because I haven't been up to the Big Apple in nearly six years, and both of my trips have been great fun. I'd love to go back!

15. Get new passport. Yeah, that whole thing about getting all my documents changed with my married name? Still happening...probably eternally happening...But I would like to visit other countries again someday, so, there's that incentive.

16. Keep actively seeking to be an ally for my sisters and brothers of color, my world siblings who are LGBTQ, and all others who need my listening ear and my measured voice.

17. See a writer I love speak/read in person.

18. Vote. Duh.

19. Don't shy away from hard conversations. Since I'm not a confrontational person, this can be tough, but I aim to try.

20. Save at least $100 per paycheck.

21. Get a library card. This has been on here for awhile. Maybe I should add: get a library card, and actually use it to borrow books (Amazon Prime is so good and so dangerous).

22. Have people over to our house more often. I definitely want to throw a Christmas open house this year. (And maybe buy some new dining room chairs and other small furnishings.)

23. Stretch regularly. I haven't been flexible since I was like, four. Hopefully I'm not too far gone.

24. Write what I feel called to write. This feels slightly like a cop out because I think it should probably read, "REVISE MY DANG MEMOIR MANUSCRIPT FROM GRADUATE SCHOOL THAT I WORKED SO HARD ON AND WANT TO SUBMIT FOR PUBLICATION SOMEDAY..." (I typed this in a sing-song voice, if you're wondering.) I do think it's been important to take time off from that creative venture, since I did spend so much time on it, but I really want to feel inspired to return to it and make it better. And maybe this comes to Anne Lamott's "butt in chair" tactic rather than starting with inspiration--Just start. But at the same time, along the lines of what I actually wrote in bold, I do want to feel passionate about whatever I choose to write in my free time, not forced.

From my grandmother's birthday book.

From my grandmother's birthday book.

25. Start a blog email/newsletter. I'm on the road to this--subscribe here!

26. Try a new spiritual practice, like keeping a Psalms notebook or Lectio Divina.

27. Support friends who are writers, artists, creators. Like these folks, and more!

28. Approach all with compassion/do not fear/be present. Okay, this is a lot, but I think they all connect. I don't understand the fear permeating our country, and I pray that I may live counter-culturally in these ways, even when it is difficult.

29. Have a big 30th birthday party. Enough said! Cheers to a new turn around the sun.