It all changes, it all stays the same

I made two lists this morning: one of the things I’ve been doing more of since self-isolating and one of the things I’ve been doing less.

It was harder to fill the second list, which makes me feel hopeful. Even though my days feel emptied out — no more social events on the calendar, upcoming trips canceled, going to movies and restaurants now a distant memory — I have been filling them with other, smaller activities. I’ve been more gracious with myself and made more time to create in ways that can normally seem silly or frivolous.

These lists helped me recalibrate instead of letting my mind run away with fear and distress. They’re a reminder of what I’ve said yes to and what I have let go of when life doesn’t feel quite normal. As Amy Krouse Rosenthal said, “Pay attention to what you pay attention to.”

Things I’m doing more of while in coronavirus isolation:

  1. Baking
  2. Sleeping
  3. Practicing Yoga with Adriene
  4. Reading the entire Sunday edition of The New York Times on Sunday
  5. Reading magazines (Bon Appetit, The Sun, The New York Times Magazine)
  6. Talking to my grandparents
  7. Facetiming friends and their toddlers
  8. Crying
  9. Journaling
  10. Exercising outside (biking, running, walking)
  11. Staying up too late
  12. Ignoring my screen time limits on the Twitter app
  13. Playing the ukulele
  14. Drinking one beer to mark Wednesday evening
  15. Blogging

Things I’m doing less of while in coronavirus isolation:

  1. Driving
  2. Listening to podcasts
  3. Remembering which day of the week it is
  4. Spending money
  5. Wearing makeup
  6. Scrolling through Instagram (I gave it up for Lent — couldn’t have timed it better!)
  7. Planning ahead
  8. Wearing pants that zip and button up
  9. Taking photos
  10. Washing my hair
  11. Staying off of my phone
  12. Wearing sunscreen
  13. Using travel mugs and tupperware (no meals to pack!)
  14. Taking breaks during the work day
  15. Watching (aka being awake for) the sunrise


Utilize the public library


A curator used to be someone who worked in a museum, but now we all curate our lives. We select and order every aspect of the endless stream of media we consume: our Instagram feed, our news consumption, the brands and styles we shop.

Lately I’ve been feeling the urge to reject curating my experience when I can. I don’t always listen to myself — I spent 45 minutes last week sitting in a Chicago hotel lobby scrolling through Yelp when I could have just wandered into a neighborhood and trusted that whatever I found would be delicious.

Studies show us that “maximizers,” people who feel the need to choose the very best possible option, aren’t any happier for their exhaustive research. (I tried to remember this when I was itching to read Consumer Reports as we began to build our wedding registry last weekend. “It’s your wish list, not your shopping list,” the salesperson told us.)

I went to the library today to pick up one book on hold, and I wandered the stacks and found a handful of other books that I didn’t know I wanted to read this month. It can be good to let fate intervene.

Reading next: Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing.



100 things that made my year in 2018

1. Early walks to and from yoga class. The mystery nest of twigs that someone built around a sycamore tree. The grouchy little brindle dog in the neighbor’s yard. The sun glowing on the buildings across Broadway.

2. A hungry rush of consuming Oscar-nominated movies: The Shape of Water; I, Tonya; Call Me By Your Name; Phantom Thread; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

3. Green tea with almond milk and honey.

4. BOGO pho on Wednesday nights at iPho Tower.

5. Painting murals for an MLK Day of Service at Northeast High School. 

6. Lurking around the edges of the experience of motherhood. Lydia Kiesling’s essay on yelling at her children. Laura Turner’s beautiful birth story. Angela Garbes on claiming space (and science!) as a mom of color.

7. Watching Planet Earth on my new 4K TV.

8. A front-row spot at a morning yoga class three times a week. Finding community on the mat. Smelling sage and palo santo on my clothes hours later.

9. Launching a membership program at NCR in the hopes that we can sustain our mission of delivering independent Catholic journalism.

10. Discovering the group Choir! Choir! Choir! and their lovely project of teaching an audience popular songs in harmony.

11. Quinoa bowls.

12. Walking through Roanoke Park and playing on the adult-sized jungle gym.

13. A February visit from my youngest sister. Eating a lot of barbecued meat. Donning Gonzaga gear to create an impromptu Kansas City fan club. Making cookies and drinking Disaronno. Underground beers at O’Malley’s in Weston. Dancing at The Ship. Screaming at each other in an escape room: “That’s not what you do with binoculars!”

14. Watching the Winter Olympics and becoming an instant expert on snowboarding and every other obscure alpine sport. Stealing the phrase “nimble little sucker” from a commentator for perpetual inside joke use.

15. The first breaths of cool, thick air when landing back at PDX.

16. Eating dinner at Thames Street Oyster House in Baltimore. Walking the snowy streets in shoes with leather soles. Escaping into a bookstore for warmth and finding some hidden gems. Watching the Olympics in a Mediterranean restaurant. 

17. Welcoming my sister and her friend as our first weekend guests in the new place. A lineup of LC’s barbecue takeout on the kitchen island. Getting dressed up for a Sam Smith show. Riding Bird scooters in the rain. Having a tour guide and the beer taps to ourselves on a Boulevard Brewery tour. 

18. A recipe for stir fry sauce from Michelle Tam.

19. Brandi Carlile’s By The Way, I Forgive You.

20. Jackson’s Honest apple cider vinegar potato chips.

21. Mike Leach and friends’ gentle spiritual reflections on care and grace in NCR’s Soul Seeing column. 

22. Watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor in the theater on the Fourth of July.

23. My boyfriend’s dad making smoked ribs when my parents visited in September.

24. A crunchy hike at Wyandotte County Lake in late January. Taking photos from the dock of the icy lake. 

25. Grappling with how to be a better podcast host. Terry Gross on the art of the Q&A.

26. Using the Marinara extension to stay focused with the pomodoro technique.

27. This staggering, brilliantly reported longread about America’s richest farmer. You may not have heard of his name, but you’ve eaten his pomegranates or lemons or pistachios.

28. Catching the biannual misprint sale at Hammerpress.

29. Melissa Clark’s hot honey shrimp.

30. St. Vincent yanking on my heartstrings in her Tiny Desk Concert. Grace VanderWaal’s lovely, scratchy, aching voice. YoYo Ma returning again and again to Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello

31. Boulevard Brewing’s tequila lime gose.

32. Original glazed donuts from Lamar’s.

33. Changing my phone display to grayscale, thanks to a little nudge from Vox.

34. Winning “Best Podcast” from the Catholic Press Association.

35. Buying two new bras.

36. Supporting a new local cafe and bookstore… and a second outpost of my favorite KC ice cream shop in the same neighborhood.

37. “Through the Eyes of Picasso” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

38. Reflecting on the Catholic Church in a messy, heartbreaking, awful year. 

39. Sea Fare Pacific soup pouches.

40. Anne Helen Petersen on gentrification, experience-driven millennial tourism, and what that very specifically looks like in the trend of bachelorette parties taking over Nashville.

41. Making a Spotify playlist based on Kurt Harden’s “Essential Mixes.”

42. Soft Sounds from Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast.

43. My sister Erika and Jonathan’s wedding. My parents’ yard filled with 450 happy guests. Doing my own updo and liking it, for once. Erika’s shoulder shimmying during their first dance. Eating quesadillas in the kitchen late in the night.  

44. Going to a podcast listening party featuring an episode of Ear Hustle and then listening to a panel of local speakers on the societal and emotional effects of longterm incarceration.

45. “Neighbors” by Lucius. “The Upswing” by Bell X1. “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande.

46. Observing candle hour.

47. The Obama presidential portraits

48. Snapping up boxes of Traditional Medicinals Healthy Cycle whenever I can get them. When cramps strike, it’s better than Advil.

49. Watching Making Movies perform at the mayor’s State of the City address.

50. Hanging out in an infrared sauna on a cool spring day.

51. Appreciating the seasons.

52. Women standing in their own power. Ellen Pompeo and Aminatou Sow being unafraid to demand their professional worth. Lauren Groff’s By the Book column, shot through with searing poise and brilliant recommendations. Women!

53. Volunteering for KC Scholars and helping lots of striving youth and adults continue their higher education.

54. Lunch with my writing group at The Sundry.

55. Hosting friends for paella and tinto de verano. Feeling my heart swell at finally having a place suited to entertaining.

56. Florida by Lauren Groff. And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact. Autumn by Ali Smith.

57. Receiving a creative compliment from my new dentist.

58. Buying garden plants at the City Market and helping Ryan’s dad till his garden beds so we could reap the benefits of fresh peppers, tomatoes, herbs and squash.

59. A weekend in Spokane celebrating my youngest sister’s graduation from college. Showing Ryan the waterfalls and trails and parks of Spokane. Live piano music at a long, loopy dinner. Soaking up the Gonzaga love. Breaking bread with three good friends and their partners. Burgerville milkshakes on the drive back to my parents’ place.

60. Flint Town on Netflix.

61. Finding a kindred spirit who shares my unpopular opinion about Kansas Citians.

62. Sister Jean.

63. Creating a game of “Sex Jeopardy” for my sister’s bachelorette party. Creating the best Bloody Mary bar. Hiking Black Butte even though it felt impossible. Shutting down a karaoke bar in Sisters, Oregon.

64. Seeing The National live at Starlight Theatre in early October, their music pulsing out across the soggy crowd as rain pelted us continually and Matt Berninger waded out into the audience to share the moment.

65. Long walks at Champoeg State Park while visiting my parents.

66. Maggie Rodgers’ singles “Light On” and “Fallingwater.” Her technically and emotionally very good performance on SNL.

67. Taking a dance class from my brother-in-law. My entire family doing the Wobble on a wedding dance floor… and at a suburban TopGolf. 

68. Red wine and Cheetos at my grandparents’ house.

69. Witnesses like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in a year that for women felt like a long uphill hike through quicksand. 

70. Hating on the big four (Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon) despite using their products every week. Thinking more critically about my consumption of technology.

71. Comedian Ali Wong’s specials Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife.

72. Choire Sicha’s clever editing of the New York Times style section. Take, for example, this primer on self-care. His goofy, real advice in the Work Friend column.

73. Shrimp tacos for dinner.

74. Dancing all night at a silent disco during a weekend in Des Moines. 

75. Trying to keep up with good e-newsletters. The Ann Friedman Weekly. Matthew Ogle’s Pome. Anne Helen Petersen’s The Collected AHP. Katie Hawkins-Gaar’s My Sweet, Dumb Brain. Tributaries by John Graeber and John Hawbaker.

76. The music video for Janelle Monae’s “PYNK.”

77. Wesley Morris, very good as always, on the “anxious confusion of activism and criticism” that “robs us of what is messy and tense and chaotic” about art.

78. Moving into a condo just a few blocks away, but also a flying leap into cohabitation. A wall of west-facing windows. Bright, natural cabinets and hardwood floors. A gas range and a gas fireplace. A soaking tub. Waking up next to my love. Paring down two households into one. Sharing candles and furniture and kitchen counters.   

79. Feeling happy and bright on a day trip to Rocheport. Riding bikes under the beautiful fall canopy on the Katy Trail. A delicious lunch at Abigail’s. Hanging out with sweet, sleepy Clydesdales at Warm Springs Ranch. A glass of wine on top of the bluff.  

80. Watching Wild Wild Country and squirming with glee at the strange, strange phenomenon that briefly swept through my home state. 

81. A week in Florida with the fam. Reuniting Ryan with Gomek, a renowned (and now taxidermied) alligator at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. Sticking our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Iced tea on long afternoons in theme parks. My brother-in-law’s joy at taking the entire family to Waffle House for breakfast. Backyard pools. Celebrating Erika and Jonathan at a reception in Jacksonville. 

82. Seeing Spoon and Grizzly Bear at the Middle of the Map Festival on a hot, heavy June day.

83. Kyle Chayka on the depressing homogeneity of coffee shops, AirBnBs and Instagram accounts everywhere: AirSpace. (Bring on that book!) 

84. Frank Ocean’s cover of “Moon River.”

85. A very thoughtful, thorough goodbye to Rookie magazine and to the challenging media landscape, from Tavi Gevinson.

86. Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.

87. Receiving a total of 34 bath bombs for my birthday and Christmas from family members who know me the best.

88. David Foster on Celine Dion. Her wacky, earnest ballad for Deadpool 2. Her killer summer of high fashion.

89. A long weekend with my college girlfriends. Learning too much about labor and delivery. Making dinner together. Swinging in the living room and on the porch with my honorary nieces. Breakfast at Rockwood Bakery. Craft cocktails. Trying to remember the names of buildings on campus.

90. Having a community of neighbors who know us by name. Greetings in the elevator. A housewarming gift. Closing down the holiday party with the 60-something retirees. Petting neighbor dogs.

91. Sarah Taber’s smart, informed Twitter threads on agriculture, animal husbandry, biology and technology. Especially this one about draft horses

92. A summer “progressive tapas” crawl through the Crossroads.

93. Voting.  

94. Discovering a technique that finally brought life back to my dry ends: heated deep conditioning.

95. Walking through the Water Gardens in Fort Worth. 

96. The duet version of “Party of One” with Brandi Carlile and Sam Smith.

97. Frequenting our neighborhood vintage market on First Friday weekends. Finally finding an original, bright piece of art to hang over our bed.

98. Birthday cocktails at Miracle, a pop-up Christmas bar.

99. Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix.

100. Saying yes to spending the rest of my life with Ryan.


100 things that made my year in 2017

1. Staring at the moon on walks from the car to the apartment.

2. Seeing Anne Lamott at Unity Temple and hearing her talk so hopefully and genuinely about writing and love and political resistance. And then complimenting me on my outfit. 

3. Crispy Thai pork with cucumber salad.

4. Thinking about tree blindness. Being able to name the sycamore trees that line my street thanks to a MLK Day nature walk with a friend.

5. A Harper’s Bazaar article on emotional labor that I couldn’t stop thinking about and sharing with my girlfriends.

6. Welcoming George Goss to National Catholic Reporter for a few months as he helped us launch a podcast and we helped him explore Kansas City though sight and sound.

7. Understanding the appeal of Anthony Bourdain by diving headlong into Parts Unknownand rejoicing when Netflix didn’t pull it after all. A New Yorker profile on Anthony Bourdain’s movable feast.

8. Frequenting the Stumptown Coffee Roasters cafe when flying in and out of PDX.

9. Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park.

10. Getting through heartbreak with music. Belting out Charles Bradley’s “Victim of Love” at the top of my lungs while driving down the highway. Finding hope in “The Skies Will Break” by Corinne Bailey Rae. Eventually, bopping along to “Sure Don’t Miss You” by The Dip.

11. A happy hour with coworkers that turned into a night out at a dueling piano bar.

12. Winning a Sodastream at a charity auction. Lemon or lime soda water on the house almost every night. 

13. A weekend in Big Sky, Montana with my dearest girlfriends. Elaborate Whole30-friendly meals and lots of dark chocolate. Playing shuffleboard, having a glass of wine, and going to bed by 10:30. Talking about dating and kids and debt. A yoga class overlooking the mountains. Bear hugs and tears and baby spit-up.

14. Buying myself a Kiersten Crowley ring.

15. Getting ready in the morning while listening to The Daily.

16. Saying goodbye to Brian Doyle while continuing to share his beautiful words. Rereading “Joyas Voladorasand sending it to friends

17. Austin Kleon’s reminders for sanity, here, here, and here.

18. Participating in a group email conversation courtesy of a dear friend who was spending several weeks in Zambia. Remembering when email was correspondence, not just a compulsory scan of a list of marketing appeals. 

19. Staring up at the sky and feeling our country’s collective wonder and awe during the solar eclipse. Putting eclipse glasses on the office’s cardboard cutout of Pope Francis. Eating Milky Ways and Sun Chips and queueing up the David Bowie tunes.

20. Seeing Arcade Fire live, at long last, and finding the term for one of my favorite genres of music: art pop. (Roisin Murphy, Beck, St. Vincent, Kishi Bashi, The Blow)

21. Local articles that start conversations about race and culture in Kansas City.

22. Getting upside down and balancing on my arms and lying in savasana at Karma Tribe Yoga. Doing Yoga with Adriene when I can’t make it to the studio.

23. A day trip to Lawrence, Kansas. Lunch at Merchants. Exploring Wonder Fair, an utterly charming gallery and paper goods shop. Reading in the park. 

24. Breakfast potatoes.

25. My dad’s endearing new hobby of capturing sunsets and sunrises.

26. Cover Stories, an album of Brandi Carlile covers.

27. Hot tea before bed, sometimes with honey. Collecting new flavors of Pukka tea like they’re precious treasures.

28. Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. She’s forever my favorite food writer.

29. Seeing The Shins live and feeling all the angst and yearning of my high school days in their lyrics.

30. The very sweet and strange Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories on Netflix.

31. Riding my bike alongside my boyfriend while he trained for a half marathon. Even if he is so fast that he had to come back looking for me once.

32. My funny sister and observant mom.

33. Being completely floored and motivated by Bryan Stevenson’s career in Just Mercy.

34. Dancing to a Lady Gaga/Madonna cover band at the Kansas City Pride Fest.

35. Long Sunday afternoon phone calls with a long-distance friend dissecting the week’s articles and political twists.

36. Gentle reminders that we’re all in this together.

37. Befriending a three-year-old. Crawling around on the floor. Playing UNO.

38. Enjoying pastries from McLain’s Bakery when my coworkers were feeling generous.

39. Documentaries. Life Itself. Icarus. Life, Animated. I Am Not Your Negro

40. A sweet, beautiful spring wedding with immense pans of paella and crispy churros and open arms from a family I was meeting for the first time.

41. Watching Obama say goodbye to Joe Biden with a surprise Presidential Medal of Freedom.

42. Discovering that Randy Newman wrote “Feels Like Home.” His charming Tiny Desk Concert.

43. Shopping at my friendly neighborhood wine store.

44. Seeing U2 and Beck at Arrowhead Stadium.

45. A literary reader for Lent, from Nick Ripatrazone.

46. Big Little Lies on HBO. Insecure. The Handmaid’s Tale. A late-in-the-year discovery wrapped in perfectly British packaging: Lovesick

47. Joining a writing group and sitting down at the library most Wednesdays to workshop pieces in progress and talk about nerdy things like grammar and who’s who in the literary world. Moving on after the library closes to Sully’s Pub for a drink in a Mason jar and book list comparisons.

48. The Thrill of It All by Sam Smith. That lovely, lovely falsetto. Taffy Brodesser-Akner on his tear-stained confessions.

49. Nicholas Bate’s Autumn 7. (And the rest of his stripped-down-but-rich-in-ideas blog.)

50. Becoming a podcast host. Producing episodes like Muslim for Christians and the Communion of Saints (and Souls).

51. Laura Turner’s column on anxiety at Catapult.

52. Watching This Is Us and, yeah, tearing up sometimes.

53. Nicole Cliffe’s delightful and hilarious habit of asking her Twitter followers thoughtful questions.

54. A week in Maui with my sisters and mom. Cooking dinner and eating on the lanai. Riding ATVs through the red dirt and green foliage. Jumping off of Black Rock. Zipping through the rainforest. Reading so many books. Playing cards. Watching movies. Sleeping hard on the pullout couch.

55. Leading horses for riders Johnny and Sheila at Heartland Therapeutic Riding on Monday nights. Sheila’s answer when I asked her how her Thanksgiving went: “It was great! I had a Bud Light for you.” Thick winter coats of fur. Picking hooves and stalls. Jogging alongside a horse through deep sand and over poles.

56. Mari Andrew’s brilliant illustrations. Pete Souza’s masterful parallel political posts. Liana Finck’s weird and lovely drawings.

57. Hanging out with my sister’s massive English Mastiff puppy.

58. Spending an hour in the float tanks at Floating KC. And in a dreamy zero-gravity massage chair for 15 minutes before my float.

59. Feeling so much summer love for Julia Fierro’s The Gypsy Moth Summer.

60. Soup and salad for dinner on Sundays and Tuesdays in the fall. Bon Appetit’s simple technique for dressing a salad. This parmesan brodo, which comes together quickly and has unforgettable flavor.

61. Popsicles on the porch at NCR.

62. A monthly meeting with three writers at a kitchen table, where we talk about a chapter of a writing textbook but mostly lament about the difficulty of the writing life that we can’t stop choosing.

63. Maria Bamford’s special Old Baby.

64. Watching the Zags cruise all the way to the NCAA championship game during March Madness. Holding down my bar stool at KC Bier Co. Convincing all my coworkers to come watch the game with me—and to wear my Gonzaga apparel. 

65. Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply.

66. Standing tall on my favorite new soapbox: that Silicon Valley isn’t here to help anyone but themselves. Scott Galloway’s TED talk. Lauren Duca speaking truth to power.

67. Catching the Alvin Ailey Dance Company at Johnson County Community College.

68. Early relationship nerves and self-consciousness blossoming into easy, comfortable intimacy. 

69. Discovering more local restaurants that I’m striving to put into (somewhat) regular rotation. Brown & Loe. The Corner. The Rockhill Grille.

70. Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” 

71. Ta-Nehisi Coates on the first white president. Some of My Best Friends are Black by Tanner Colby. Yaa Gyasi’s stunning Homegoing.

72. Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my very enthusiastic coworker Michele, who happens to be a Catholic sister in her 70s. Drinking frozen butterbeer on the cobblestone steps. Whizzing over Hogwarts on a (virtual) broomstick. Hearing Michele tell a child, “The wand does choose you, you know.”

73. Learning that it’s really not so hard to make chicken wings at home. Baked crispy peppercorn wings. Buffalo sauce.

74. The unabashed joy and tenderness of Greg Boyle’s Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship.

75. Laughing way too hard at stupid, silly tweets, especially when they’re about the social media platform itself. Melting down with the rest of the world when Twitter introduced a 280 character limit and then promptly getting over it. But still mostly tweeting under 140 characters.

76. Getting back to the ukulele and realizing I’m actually not horrible at stringing together chords.

77. Making out.

78. A summer morning swim in my parents’ backyard pool.

79. Loving Celine Dion, who loves us all back.

80. Walking to the beautifully designed Monarch Coffee and sipping an americano while reading the Sunday paper or working on an essay.

81. Taking my sister to dinner at Pok Pok.

82. Cecile McLorin Salvant’s Dreams and Daggers

83. The New York Times Magazine’s Letter of Recommendation series. Propagating pothos plants for many lucky recipients. Giving Kneipp herbal bath oils as a post-race gift.

84. Homemade chia pudding.

85. Giving in to an incessant marketing campaign but still truly enjoying the 21st-century wonder of Thinx.

86. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. The Pacific Northwest. Japan. Loneliness. Journals. Nature. I’m on board.

87. Love letters from a young Barack Obama.

88. Succumbing to peer pressure and watching The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise with coworkers. 

89. Seeing Katy Guillen and the Girls play at Knuckleheads Saloon. 

90. Baby Driver, before knowing about Kevin Spacey. 

91. Finding oases of healthier, tastier food on a business trip to Orlando, like Sofrito Latin Cafe and Tabbouleh.

92. A much-needed February visit from three of my very best friends. Eating brunch on a patio in the winter. Letting my friends backcomb my very curly hair before a night out. Drinking half-caf lattes as though we can handle them. Putting on sheet face masks and almost peeing our pants with laughter. Four of us sleeping and hanging out in my tiny apartment.

93. Happy hours, tours, and trivia night at Boulevard Brewing’s Beer Hall.

94. Watching Emily McDowell burst onto the internet A-list with her much-needed line of empathy cards. Giving and receiving her gifts and cards. Reading There Is No Good Card For This. 

95. Splurging on Josh Rosebrook skincare

96. A flannel duvet cover and a new set of sheets.

97. Silent but keen public observation.

98. Tank and the Bangas bringing so much joy into my year.

99. Taking the occasional break from breaking news in a politically stressful year. “All that’s breaking at this point is you.

100. Beginning to understand, finally, what Toni Morrison means when she writes about rising in love.


100 things that made my year in 2016

  1. Kansas City barbecue. The fry seasoning at Joe’s KC. The jar of pickle slices next to the cash register at Arthur Bryant’s. Wet-Naps and standing in line and burnt ends and Boulevard Wheat on draft. Taking my mom for deep-fried pickles at Char Bar every time she visits.
  2. Catching lightning bugs in a mason jar with my sisters on the art museum lawn.
  3. Pop-up yoga in the park. Classes at Karma Tribe Yoga on Broadway.
  4. Volunteering at Heartland Therapeutic Riding. Seeing kids and adults communicate with horses and blossoming for it.
  5. Long walks in Loose Park.
  6. The coconut milk-based chocolate ice cream at Betty Rae’s. Sometimes with a scoop of peanut butter on top.
  7. The pilot episode of Broad City, featuring a terrifyingly infantile Fred Armisen. And then every other episode of Broad City.
  8. Media featuring strong female friendships: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Call Your Girlfriend. Girls. A Few Things with Claire and Erica.
  9. Renting 530 square feet of my own. Two nearly-full bookcases. A dishwasher. Houseplants and a ninth-floor view.
  10. Walking a block to work.
  11. Spending my weekdays with coworkers who are intelligent and social justice-oriented and clever and kind and engaged.
  12. Michael Chabon on taking his son Abe to Fashion Week in Paris.
  13. Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet.
  14. Brisk, biting winter days with blue skies and sunshine.
  15. Revisiting The Cranberries’ Tiny Desk Concert whenever I needed a pick-me-up.
  16. Late-night swimming with friends in Phoenix in February.
  17. Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.
  18. The World’s Easiest Cookies from Nom Nom Paleo.
  19. Concerts at Crossroads KC: Brandi and the twins putting on another amazing show on a week when we were all feeling fearful. Shakey Graves singing about haunted houses. Sylvan Esso bouncing around on a hot, heavy night.
  20. Seeing movies at the blast-from-the-past Rio and Glenwood Arts theaters. Captain Fantastic.
  21. Chelsea Fagan and her team at The Financial Diet keeping finances and money talk real and approachable for millennials.
  22. Obama and Biden’s bromance. Joe Biden finding two quarters.
  23. Leslie Jones lovin’ on Colin Jost. Leslie Jones covering the Summer Olympics. Justice for Leslie Jones.
  24. Playing the most brilliant April Fools’ prank on my baby sister by using her cell phone number for an amateur Chewbacca impression contest.
  25. Practicing my Spanish with other eager hispanohablantes in the ¡ClaroKC! club.
  26. Gentle, welcome Twitter morning greetings and evening sign-offs from Esme Weijun Wang and Lin-Manuel Miranda. 
  27. KonMari-ing my phone thanks to an episode of WNYC’s Note to Self. Feeling more zen every time I look at my nearly-empty home screen. 
  28. Great journalism: Ta-Nehisi Coates on his black president. Taffy Brodesser-Akner asking what Cool Jesus would do. A massive Mother Jones investigation that led to the DOJ ceasing the practice of contracting with private prisons.
  29. Making up stories about other people’s pets and restaurant servers.
  30. Authentic Mexican food in the Midwest. Strong margaritas at Ponak’s. Mexican beer and carne asada on the patio at Los Tules. Tacos al pastor in a backyard.
  31. Catching Hammerhedd, Kansas City’s kid metal band, playing on a front porch during Porchfest.
  32. Watching classic movies for the first time. The Truman Show. American Beauty. Boogie Nights
  33. Maria Bamford being her wacky, wonderful self in Lady Dynamite.
  34. Drinking grapefruit La Croix. Sitting at the office conference table comparing flavors with my coworkers. Bon Appetit’s rejected flavors. “Sippin’ on La Croix.”
  35. Laura Turner’s brave writing on anxiety and deciding to stay on her meds while trying to conceive and miscarriage.
  36. Escaping into a funnier political reality by binge-watching Veep.
  37. My sister’s curiosity about my toiletries
  38. Going to the mountains with the family. Playing card games late into the night. Driving home packed like sardines, all six of us in one SUV. Skiing for an afternoon and not falling once.
  39. Laughing at the ludicrous conceits behind Anthropologie furniture catalogs. Thinking about social class and being “basic.” Reassuring myself about renting for now by thinking about keeping a low overhead
  40. Learning to embrace the outdoors in the Midwest. Hiking on the plains. Swinging through the trees at Go Ape. Going outside at dusk to walk around the neighborhood. 
  41. Standing in the produce cooler at Costco on hot July days.
  42. Campari and soda with a generous wedge of lime.
  43. Mike Birbiglia’s six tips for making it small in Hollywood. Or anywhere. Mike Birbiglia’s five reasons to support independent films.
  44. Turning on the TV during a bout of insomnia and coming across Jacques Pepin cooking with his granddaughter Shorey. The way he calls Cornish hens “ze tiny chickens.” 
  45. Reliving my fourth-grade Oregon state history education at the Frontier Trails Museum.
  46. Zinger tea for colds or sore throats or especially cold nights.
  47. Walking blind into seeing Lion and coming out grateful and sobbing.
  48. New-to-me vinyl albums: Bread, Baby I’m A Want You. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Michael Jackson, Bad. Billie Holiday, Music for Torching. Diana Ross and The Supremes, Anthology.
  49. Refilling bottles of Tea-Biotics kombucha at the Overland Park Farmers Market.
  50. Revisiting silly, stupid comedies. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Just Friends. I Love You, Man.
  51. Greasy cheeseburgers and Irish sandwiches with a kind, humble former priest and current cartoonist. 
  52. Finding poetry on Twitter. Wendy Cope, “The Orange.” Nael, “The Tiger.” Sharon Olds, “Douche-Bag Ode.” Christian Wiman, “My quiet.”
  53. Texting long-distance friends on a daily or weekly basis.
  54. Visiting friends in Madison. Eating lots of good food. Looking out over the lake in the dark. Playing Mario Kart and Bananagrams and Balderdash. 
  55. The music video for Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).”
  56. The National World War I Museum. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The National Mustard Museum.
  57. Aly Raisman’s double layout during her floor routine. 
  58. George Saunders on his next novel and knowing when to dive into a new project. 
  59. Eating pineapple popsicles and drinking rosé on a bright, wet spring afternoon.
  60. Cozy brunches with visiting family at Gram & Dun.
  61. Patton Oswalt on suddenly being a single dad. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”
  62. Cuddling.
  63. Seeing Miles Ahead and then hearing native Don Cheadle talk about the process, with much of his family in the seats around us.
  64. Flying my curly hair flag. Applauding those who question why we often don’t.
  65. Watching too many YouTube videos of 12-year-old Grace Vanderwaal
  66. Bringing my parents’ smelly black Labrador in their demolished dining room for treats and some Christmas morning hugs.
  67. Good advice the way only Garrison Keillor can give it: “Do the right thing. Travel light. Be sweet.”
  68. Lattes and writing at Quay Coffee. Walking through the City Market on a warm fall morning. Buying myself flowers. 
  69. Spending an evening at Knuckleheads with Sara Watkins and her lovely voice and her fiddle skills.
  70. Kate McKinnon
  71. Remembering to appreciate—and hoping to someday emulate—how much the Obamas love each other.
  72. Walking to dinner at Shio Ramen Shop and breakfast at Krokstrom Klubb and Market.
  73. Tilda Swinton’s incredible Christian Dior wardrobe in A Bigger Splash.
  74. Surprising my dear friend Ali by showing up on her doorstep in Spokane for her thirtieth birthday. Wearing flower crowns and eating shortbread cookies and sipping champagne with her family and friends in her darling little house.
  75. Bringing a little of my old home to my new home with a wooden mountain range, a vintage pennant, and art from friends.
  76. Kansas City mayor Sly James singing “Kansas City.” 
  77. Scaachi Koul tweeting about her hilarious, charming immigrant parents.
  78. A tour, dinner, drinks, and live music at Weston Brewing Company. Who knew hanging out in a underground cave could be so festive?! 
  79. Bon Iver’s 22, A Million.
  80. Reading the comments. Thinking about what a publisher owes its contributors and its audience. Making the conversation more civil. Thinking about an engaged audience as an asset.
  81. Tall cups of hot tea and eavesdropping at Westport Coffee House.
  82. Being in the water on hot, humid summer days: the pool at my apartment, a cool shower, the lazy river at Schlitterbahn Kansas City.
  83. Getting sucked into The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up just like every other American woman.
  84. Revisiting my alma mater’s basketball superstar of 2005.
  85. Receiving a box of Oregon apples and pears in the mail, thanks to my mom.
  86. Beyonce’s Lemonade.
  87. Playing Ms. Pac-Man at Tapcade and imagining I might be good enough to someday approach the high score.
  88. Long phone conversations on Sunday afternoons. 
  89. Documentaries: Amy. Merchants of Doubt. Amanda Knox.
  90. Saying goodbye to a dear friend by drinking Bloody Marys and trying to hit targets at TopGolf
  91. Visiting the Oregon coast to listen to and look at the waves. Steamer clams and salmon chowder. Grilled shrimp. Running my fingers over baleen at the whale-watching center in Depoe Bay.
  92. Bite Beauty lip crayons.
  93. Being okay with a little social media fatigue.
  94. Marveling at the crazy-huge historic homes along Ward Parkway and in Janssen Place.
  95. Gonzaga: The March to Madness on HBO.
  96. Boulevard Brewing’s Ginger-Lemon Radler. 
  97. Peppermint oil in a cool bath during the summer. 
  98. Supporting KCMO small businesses, especially Hand & Land.
  99. Embarking on the Pulitzer Project, in which I read the Pulitzer fiction winner for every year of my life.
  100. This guy.

My year in reading, 2016

10 books I loved this year, in no particular order:


Brit Bennett, The Mothers

A lovely debut novel in which a church community and an abortion have equal heft and importance in three young black lives.

Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

A memoir of the modern relationship. Melton writes about her history of addiction, disordered eating, and intimacy issues with a lucid, loving voice.

Ann Patchett, Commonwealth

A gorgeous family epic that makes me feel like maybe I could write a sprawling story with such economy and beauty.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

I chose this novel because it won the Pulitzer the year I was born. It’s a beautiful American origin story. I wanted to be outdoors and horseback the entire time I read this book.

Rebecca Traister, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

This is a book that ought to be read by all women in their twenties (and thirties). We’re unmarried and childless or maybe feeling pressured to have kids or thinking about adopting solo or tired of crappy first dates or secretly enamored of our solitary lives, and this book tells us that we are not alone.  

Michael Zielenziger, Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation

A fascinating look into the cultural malaise that runs rampant among Japan’s young adults, particularly the hikikomori, young men who shut themselves in their rooms and withdraw from society. 

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club

A fierce, unsentimental memoir from the woman who brought this genre to its current staggering popularity. Recommended for anyone who wanted to escape their hometown.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

The work that we need in these times. Required reading for all Americans.

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

A surprisingly engrossing and richly researched novel. This feels like a book Liz Gilbert wrote for herself, which made me love it all the more.

Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies

Oh my god, this novel blew me away. I loved the flawed characters and the lush writing. Scenes from this book still play across my mind months after I closed the cover.

Here are ten more books I read and liked, any of which could probably go in the list above:


Slow down

If there’s a season in which I remember to breathe deeply, it’s this one. Fall days are bright and clear and loose. They brim with opportunity, a slow, quiet unfurling. I know it’s not popular to luxuriate in the darker half of the year, but it’s here where I feel unhurried and at ease. I dance to the music on the radio. A smile comes to my lips more readily. I am generous with my attention and my time.

There’s a turning inward that autumn encourages. The sun rises later and sets sooner. We get up and lie down in the dark, alone with our thoughts and our routines. Lately, I’ve been practicing a morning routine that helps my days feel creative and grounded from the start. I wake up, brush my teeth, put in my contact lenses. I sit down on the couch and set a timer: 20 minutes of reading nonfiction. Right now, it’s Krista Tippett’s “Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.” I underline passages with a pencil, think about the words on the page after I read them. 

Yesterday morning, I read a passage that highlighted exactly how I’m feeling lately:

“But that (physical attractiveness), as the late great Irish poet and philosopher of beauty John O’Donohue helpfully distinguished, is glamour. I’ve taken his definition as my own, for naming beauty in all its nuance in the moment-to-moment reality of our days: beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive.”

It’s in these fall days that I see and smell and experience true beauty, ordinary moments that feel large enough to hold my ballooning emotions. It’s in the crisp air and the dark evenings that I feel joyous and calm and alive.

It’s become important for me to notice this and appreciate it, just as it has become important for me to be okay with spending 20 minutes on the couch in the morning. I know that comparison is the thief of joy, and yet my brain tells me, you cannot afford this morning luxury, who are you to take this time for yourself. It is persistent, that voice: don’t be such a contrarian, you whine too much about summer weather, does the changing light actually affect your mood or do you just want attention?  

I hear that voice, but I don’t listen to it. That voice is not wise or kind. When I slow down on these dark mornings, when I listen deeply, I know that there is kindness and wisdom in being true to myself.

Others can hold that fall is a brilliant flash, just a distraction before we fade into the despair of early evenings and icy winter months. That is not my truth. Others can prefer the snooze button or the gym before work. That is not my truth. 

My truth is my time on the couch, those moments of reading, followed by five minutes of prayer or meditation or contemplation. What I call it changes from day to day, as does my success at slowing down my thoughts and sitting with my breath and the early morning light. This half hour of kindness toward myself builds generosity and patience into the rest of my brisk, bright day.


100 things that made my year in 2015

1. Roasted chicken with dijon mustard.

2. Taking pictures out of airplane windows.

3. Kombucha.

4. Growing my own tomatoes in the backyard.

5. Thinking about not having to know everything. Noah Baumbach’s clever dig at Google-happy hipsters young and old. Rilke on living into the questions.

6. Continuing to keep a logbook.

7. Flipping my part to wear my hair down a second day.

8. Practicing yin yoga again.

9. Reliving my college days and dressing up for a Gonzaga game with my baby sister.

10. Revisiting brilliant essays by Joel Peckham, Brian Doyle, and Patricia Foster in The Sun magazine.

11. Humor. Tig Notaro at the Aladdin. The Maria Bamford Show. Marc Maron’s self-deprecation.

12. Barry Lopez speaking with Jon Krakauer at Wordstock.

13. Modern womanhood made easier: Lola subscription service. Stowaway cosmetics. Lenny newsletter.

14. Speaking on emotional intelligence at the inaugural Tipsy TED Talks hosted in my Portland friends’ basement.

15. Joining other writers for regular critique sessions and conversations on the writing process.

16. Local restaurants. Bollywood Theater. Dick’s Kitchen. Por Qué No?

17. The Joe Biden compliment generator.

18. Live music: The exuberant creativity of Kishi Bashi. Brittany Howard’s self-possessed power at Edgefield. Seeing Brandi Carlile live for the fourth time and hearing her cover of Murder in the City. Introducing my sister Erika to the jaw-dropping talent of Punch Brothers.

19. Finding the productivity sweet spot.

20. Discovering the smart women at Of A Kind

21. Farewell brunch to the original Besaw’s location.

22. Midi rings.

23. Those who poke fun at the artisanal, perfectly curated, just-so zeitgeist

24. Good music. BØRNS, Dopamine. Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell. Fleetwood Mac, Rumors. Andrew Belle, Black Bear (Hushed).

25. Epsom salt baths with Dr. Teal’s.

26. Jenn Armbrust on the feminine economy.

27. Completing my third Whole30. Talking about and eating real food.

28. Bison, antelope, and elk at Yellowstone National Park. Hot tubbing on a crisp Montana night. Talking long and deep with my cousin.

29. Temporary tattoos.

30. Eating barbecue and drinking beer on Valentine’s Day with two of my best girlfriends.

31. Discovering the joys of wearing earplugs on flights.

32. Louis C.K. on fairness and perspective.

33. Spiritual direction. Grounding. Imaginative prayer.

34. Starting this website.

35. Patacones at the Portland Mercado.

36. Making a list of “Grandma-isms” and hanging from pine rafters with my cousins during a long weekend at Black Butte Ranch. 

37. Essay workshops with Brian Benson and Natalie Serber at the Attic Institute.

38. Lexapro.

39. Turning off the alarm on weekends.

40. Getting my creative nonfiction published for the first time.

41. Making dinner for the family at my place on Mother’s Day after my dad rescued our Aerobie from a neighbor’s tree.

42. Thai omelets.

43. Twitter as an art gallery

44. Wine tasting with Grandma. Renting a trolley. Investing in a few grown-up bottles of wine.

45. Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See.

46. Nick Ripatrazone’s literary reader for Lent.

47. Two-stepping with strangers in Austin, Texas.

48. Wearing my opinions and feelings on my chest, thanks to Balm and Otherwild

49. Melanie Lynskey on WTF with Marc Maron.

50. Letterpress artwork from Hatch Show Print.

51. Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance.

52. Hearing Eula Biss speak on immunity, science and fear, and being a “citizen thinker.”

53. Lady Hill Winery’s Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir.

54. Watching movies. Foxcatcher. Whiplash. Chef. Me, Earl, and The Dying Girl. Inside Out.

55. Revisiting our 2014 trip to Japan with a picnic under a cherry blossom tree on Mount Tabor.   

56. Drinking decaf coffee in my Helen Levi mug.

57. Jumping on the literary bandwagon. Elena Ferrante. Karl Ove Knausgaard. 

58. Saying yes. Speaking to fellow parishioners at my parish’s annual Novena of Grace. Accepting a new job offer and moving to Kansas City. 

59. Stephen Colbert’s interview with Joe Biden. 

60. Mary Karr’s response to a friend commenting on her open blouse: “Aw, I was just trying to bust a bone.” Also, The Art of Memoir.

61. Picking up the phone and having long conversations with fellow writers and friends.

62. Pope Francis. 

63. George Saunders on his writing education.

64. Walking. Around my neighborhood, to the coffee shop, on Mount Tabor on a Sunday morning.

65. Adele’s Hello music video.

66. Leather oxfords from Will Leather Goods.

67. Being moved by poetry. Carrie Fountain, Want. Dan Albergotti, Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale. Mary Karr, Who the Meek Are Not.

68. Rereading Jhumpa Lahiri on James Salter

69. Oliver Jeffers’ dipped paintings.

70. Watering the houseplants on Tuesday. Making coffee in the french press. Stacks of books in my bedroom and critiqued essays in my sunroom.

71. Cupping.

72. Making an emergency preparedness kit with my roommate after we all freaked out over The Atlantic doomsday article

73. Birthday prosecco at Bar Avignon. Birthday s’mores at Ned Ludd.

74. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

75. Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean first thing every morning while on Cape Cod. 

76. Repurposing my Rifle Paper Co. desktop calendars to use as notecards.

77. Kate McKinnon being her glorious self…and doing a bang-up job imitating everyone else while she’s at it.

78. The Dear Sugar Radio podcast. 

79. Embracing the silly and the serious. Adam J. Kurtz. Dallas Clayton. Jenny Slate

80. Home Alone live with the Oregon Symphony.

81. Slim Palate’s Chewy Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt.

82. Maira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty.

83. Live-tweeting my road trip with Dad to Kansas City.

84. Finding a mouthwash that feels as straightforward and effective as it looks.

85. Obama’s interview with Marc Maron. His eulogy for Beau Biden. His rendition of Amazing Grace at Clementa Pinckney’s funeral.

86. The soundtrack for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

87. Buying jars of pickles in Montreal and Bozeman.

88. Peppermint tea.

89. Ana Marie Cox on coming out as a Christian.

90. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.

91. New York City. AirBnB with a view. Dinner at Balthazar. Oysters at Cull & Pistol. Cubanos and Mexican street corn at Cafe Habana. Walking the High Line at night.  

92. Using all of the vegetables from our CSA. Except for the turnips.

93. Rereading the Harry Potter series.

94. Simone Campbell on spiritual boldness

95. Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable.

96. Nashville. Eating at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams more than once. Revisiting hot chicken. Shopping for cowboy boots. Shouting over the music at honky-tonk bars. 

97. Eating too many Hood strawberries all June long.

98. Thinking about strength and softness. How to project power. How to hold a stranger’s baby

99. Going to readings at Powell’s Books.

100. Bright, quiet early mornings.


Make a list of everything you’re good at

Cleaning the house.

Trusting my intuition.

Flossing every night.

Losing control when I get the giggles.



Sensing other people’s emotions.

Being slow to acknowledge the things I do well.

Letting myself tear up a little bit when I’m moved by music.

Spelling. (I have a third-place county spelling bee ribbon stashed in a box somewhere as proof.)

Writing letters and birthday cards and texts and tweets to my loved ones.

Expressing gratitude in effusive letters or emails that might cause me to cringe five years later.

Being earnest.

Turning cartwheels.

Eating my vegetables.

Sharing music and experiences with my sisters.

Being alone.


Eating ice cream.

Hanging out with toddlers.

Paying attention to my feelings. (Not so good at leaning into them, but it’s a work in progress.)

Remembering names.

Drinking enough water.

Dancing without embarrassment.

Playing ping-pong.

Serving on volunteer committees.

Embracing playfulness.

Making sangria.


Informing my friends about politics, current events, and pop culture.

Staying home on Friday nights.

Organizing. (Plays, parties, meetings, stacks of paper, kitchen cupboards, my thoughts.)

Worrying about my heart.

Growing houseplants.

Doing what I say I am going to do.

Indulging my quirks.

Remembering the lyrics of most 1990s country music songs. (Despite attempts to forget them.)

Obsessing slightly.

Speaking in public.

Making abstract connections.

Riding horses.

Having good penmanship.

Giving gifts.

Taking care of my clothes. (Dry cleaning. Ugh.)

Making lists.

Doing the work.

Taking walks.

Practicing kindness.

Writing it down.

Fulfilling civic duties. (Am I the only one who loves jury duty?!) 

Working on my handstands.

Embracing my curly hair.

Washing the dishes.


Doing pushups.

Avoiding caffeine.


Keeping a routine.

Changing my sheets.

Scaring my sisters by jumping out at them.

Planning trips.

Enduring long days in airports and on planes.

Tossing things I don’t need.

Stressing out for too long about a playlist or menu that I’ve planned.

Self-diagnosing myself with serious diseases or life-threatening conditions.

Placing endless significance on the written word. 

Observing my heroes carefully.

Being on my feet all day.


Curling my eyelashes.

Playing nice on first dates.

Talking to myself in the car when I’m feeling a little unhinged.

Editing cover letters and resumes and applications and essays.

Packing and eating my lunch even when I’m not excited about cold chicken and carrot sticks.

Returning phone calls.

Loving dill pickles.

Whining about packing a suitcase. Also, packing a suitcase.

Keeping a logbook.

Contributing my thoughts to creative projects.

Asking questions.

Making creative things with my hands, like off-centered ceramic bowls and amateur doodles. 

Devotedly watching Saturday Night Live. 

Carrying multiple dishes on my arms.

Taking little kids seriously.

Not crying.

Winning at Boggle.


Disguising my anxiety.

Reading the newspaper.

Editing photos on my iPhone.

Writing honestly.

Telling the truth.

Playing four chords on my ukulele.

Being self-aware.

Sharing work that inspires me.

Voting with my dollars.

Paying my library fines.

Showing up.

Recommending books and music.

Singing to and petting our Labrador.  

Feeling self-conscious when everyone else is worried about themselves.


Read more books

I don’t know how I first learned to read. My parents won’t take credit. My kindergarten teacher can’t claim she helped, because I was reading before I ever walked through the classroom door. I have no memory of how it started, so I hardly have the right to an opinion, but it’s a story I know well.

Sitting in the backseat at age two, I looked out the window at a sign and said, “Car!” My mom laughed, thinking I was mimicking her. “Wash!” I said. She stopped laughing.

When we stopped at a red light, she looked back at me. “Brittany, what does that sign say?” she asked, pointing. “Sale,” I said. 

She took me to her parents’ house that evening. “Mom, I think Brittany can read,” she said. My grandma took out a small chalkboard and wrote simple words. I read what she wrote: BOY. CAT. DOG. MOM. No one could understand it, but there I was, a reader.

– – –

Often during the holidays, my family sits down to watch a favorite video on VHS of me reading to my sister Erika. On film, I am four years old and she’s two. We’re wearing matching nightgowns and sitting by each other on the couch, although she keeps twisting around to ham it up for the camera. The Christmas tree twinkles behind us. 

My lispy voice squeaks as I read a Little Critter book, my delivery like a freight train. Nothing can stop me, not even Erika’s protests: “I wanna sing Jinga Bells!”

“‘Twas da night befoah Chwistmus and allll fwoo da house,” I lilt, charmed by the story. I am a reading machine.

My mom tells me how I used to plow though books sitting in the exam room at the pediatrician’s office. I’d happily oblige her, reading a Berenstain Bears book aloud, but once Dr. M walked in the door, I clammed up. “Brittany, please read a page for Dr. M,” my mom would ask, but I would stay silent, acting like I wasn’t in the room. I read for the books, not for other people.

– – –

In grade school, I had moved on from Bookmobile to school library, gladly devouring random selections from the shelves. I scared myself reading Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians in seventh grade and relished it from cover to cover. Later that year, I joined my friend Justine’s family for a road trip to Boise, where I learned to ski, but what I remember just as vividly is when we finally arrived at her brother’s house and I refused to socialize or go to sleep until I had finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I’ve rarely let my social life keep me from reading, for better or worse. I was the girl on the hallway couch in high school who was reading during a free period. Maybe early on it was mostly the latest offering from Nora Roberts or Danielle Steel, but even the glittering, impossibly perfect lives in those novels taught me to think about what I truly want in life. Later, it was Literature, and I would have been happy to tell you why that was important if you asked. I thought I was a charming little scholar.

– – –

Books are a delicious escape from the world and a new horizon unfolding. They bring comfort and reality. They nurture and challenge. Even now, when I tell myself I’d rather be watching the latest episode of SNL or lying on the couch as I binge on an entire season of Orange Is The New Black, when I choose a book instead, I never regret it. Books help me understand other people and myself. They let me feel things. They help me seize possibility and growth.

Whether it’s a used paperback or a brand-new first edition, something I’m reading for the third time, or a book on the Kindle, I’m with Borges, who said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

– – –

A sampling of favorite books, in rough chronological order

1 Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss 

2 Corduroy by Don Freeman

3 Richard Scarry’s To Market, To Market 

4 Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

5 Snuggle Piggy and the Magic Blanket by Michelle Stepto

6 Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

7 Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

8 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

9 The Giver by Lois Lowry

10 The BFG by Roald Dahl

11 The Saddle Club (series) by Bonnie Bryant

12 Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples 

13 The Babysitters Club (series) by Ann M. Martin

14 Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

15 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

16 Joyride by Gretchen Olson

17 The Gift by Danielle Steel

18 Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

19 The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

20 East of Eden by John Steinbeck

21 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

22 Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

23 All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

24 Spartina by John Casey

25 Mink River by Brian Doyle

26 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

27 The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

28 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

29 Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

30 Light Years by James Salter

31 Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

32 The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

33 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

34 Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

35 Yes Please by Amy Poehler

36 The Dream of A Common Language by Adrienne Rich

37 Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

38 An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

39 Lit by Mary Karr

40 All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr