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See Reality As It Is

acceptance Thích Nhất Hạnh, Thích Nhất Hạnh, elaina avalos, radical acceptance

“To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth.
The problem is to see reality as it is.”
~Thích Nhất Hạnh

After a long journey through loss and grief and frustration that my dreams are delayed, I stumbled onto something unexpected recently – acceptance. I’m not going to say I don’t have moments of doubt, but I am saying that there is a great deal of freedom that comes with accepting the situation as it is. And frankly, that acceptance is super motivating in other ways.

Here’s to a great Monday & week!

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Fall Decor Inspiration

pexels Photo by Karolina Grabowska, elaina avalos, fall decor inspiration, pumpkins, autumn

It’s still hot in the south – hot and humid. It’s the kind of hot that fogs up your glasses when you step outside. Our reasonable, windows open – kind of weather – is limited to autumn (and the tiny bit of spring when there’s not pine pollen all over everything). So about this time every year, in these dog days of summer, I look forward to the changes that come when the light changes, the air grows drier, and the temperature drops.

There’s a golden glow to autumn, that I adore. As I look forward to the crisper air, football season, and cozy weather, I have been thinking about how I’ll decorate my “new” home (moved in end of January) for one of my favorite seasons. Here’s some fall decor inspiration for your home.* All links open in a new tab/page.

Throws & Blankets

Found on Amazon, here.

Find this cable knit reminiscent blanket, here.

Find it, here.

The two cable knit-like throws, have different color options. But I love the cream because you could use it throughout the fall and winter months. While I love color and can’t get fully on board, with the all-neutral home decor – train, there are some things, like throws, that I would prefer to have as neutral as possible. That said, my favorite blanket of all time – which now belongs to my dog – was very fall-themed and I adored it. I’m thinking about getting a new one (like the one below) this year.

Pumpkin & fall leaves throw is, here.

Table Top & Kitchen Decor

These items would be perfect for vases, baskets, or laying on coffee tables, dining room tables, etc. – as small vignettes, throughout your home. Recently, I’ve bought Milk Glass pieces that are perfect for displaying seasonal decor. See my Pinterest board for examples, here.

Find the pumpkins, here. They are about $1.00 a piece ($16.99 total).

Love these! Find the dried grass, here.

Here’s another great one – it’s an 86-piece package of pampas grass –
for an awesome price.

Here are a few items I love from The Nested Fig.

Find the acorn, here.

Marble Pumpkin Spoon Rest

These pumpkins are sold individually. I love the minis ($8.00). The teal is my favorite.
Find them on Etsy, here.

I have a set similar to these. They’re perfect for your coffee table or a side table.

I absolutely love these!

You can find these, here. I have a set similar to this. I love them!

I love glass pumpkins. I have one that is a peachy-orange mercury glass one that is my favorite fall decoration. I hope to add one like this, this year.

*Post contains affiliate links.

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Never Give Up

harriett beecher stowe, never give up, elaina avalos, ali kazal images
Photo used in image, by: Ali Kazal

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. – Harriet Beecher Stowe

It’s Monday. If you’ve been around here a while, you know it’s not my favorite day of the week. By the time this post publishes, I’ll be getting ready for work. This is my reminder, heading into a new week – that I can’t give up. And neither can you. Keep pushing, friends.

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Just Say to Me

Just say to me
You’ll be the fool this time
You’ll take my place
For a little while
You’ll give me a chance
You’ll let me break you down
Let me use you up
You’ll show me how
Oh, my love
Your pretty little wings
They must be getting tired
Trying to keep your feet
Up off the ground
Let’s go back to the days
Beneath the Northern Lights
When we danced so free
Like a little child
Oh, my love
You thought I’d left without you
Oh, my love
My arms were always around you
Just say to me
You’ll lie awake this time
You’ll watch me sleep
Straight through the night
No more dreams
Must I sacrifice
My heart is safe
You’ll guard it with your life
My love
You thought I’d left without you
But oh, my love
My arms were always around you
My arms were always around you
Oh, my love
You thought I’d left without you
But oh, my love
My arms were always around you
My arms were always around you
My arms were always around you
– Lyrics by Peter Bradley Adams

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Unoptional Joy

Jon Acuff, Valerie Burton, Elaina Avalos, Unoptional Joy

I listened to this Jon Acuff podcast episode this morning, as I was getting ready for work. The episode is Unoptional Joy – Why prioritizing your happiness is crucial to your success with Valorie Burton. It’s good stuff. Here’s the link: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/all-it-takes-is-a-goal/id1547078080?i=1000567795605. Valerie Burton’s website is: https://valorieburton.com/.

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We Know Best What We’re Missing

I mentioned recently that I’ve started a new novel. This is certainly not a final product, since I’m only 10,000 words in, but here is the “blurb” I’m using to describe the novel now.

Ellison Whiting writes bestselling novels about families and relationships. She has made a name for herself – doing just that. Her novels become movies. Her fans become so invested in her books, she sometimes questions if they realize they’re fiction. Ellison Whiting’s problem is she writes novels about families and relationshipsbut she’s never known what it is to be in a family, or a healthy relationship, for that matter. Abandoned by her mother as a toddler, she is convinced of one thing and only one thing – based on the necklace with her few belongings – she was born by the sea. She’s spent a lifetime imagining her life before foster care. After another break-up, after a long string of break-ups, she decides it’s time. She leaves California behind, to uncover her history – along the coast of North Carolina – where she finds the family she’s always wondered about. But at what cost?

Here’s a brief excerpt.

“The secret to writing a great book is that there is no secret. Just a lot of hard work. I’ve written a fair number of bestsellers over the years. The kind that get you movie deals. They’re all still in development, by the way. I have a loyal fan base that would buy anything with my name on it, even if it’s awful. The truth is, everything I’ve written the last two years has been crap. I tried. I’ve tried. But when Carter left, something in me died. It’s not exactly like he was my muse. Honestly, he sucked at being in a relationship. It’s just that he’d been one of the few I’d trusted and that went right the hell out the window along with my will to write about love and family. I’d had a long string of relationships that never went anywhere. That’s the irony of course. I make my name, tons of cash, and I happened to garner critical success – writing about love and family – of all things. My books aren’t romances per se. They’re women’s fiction. I write about women and their relationships – motherhood included. It just so happens each book has a very strong romance element, even if the protagonist’s love interest is a secondary character. My most popular books, without a doubt, however – are love stories. The weirdness of writing a life I don’t know and have never experienced, is not lost on me. But I guess sometimes we know best, what we’re missing. That certainly seems to be the case with me.”

You can read the opening paragraph of Sea Glass Hearts, here.
You can see my Pinterest, inspiration board, here. And yes, of course I have a Spotify playlist, too.

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Not Ready to be Home

A beautiful day in the neighborhood.

My mom & I returned from California about a week ago. I pulled into my driveway about midnight last Monday. I wasn’t prepared to return. I didn’t want to return. I went back to work on Wednesday and by the afternoon, I had a fever and joint/muscle aches. I’ve been down for the count ever since.

Our bodies are funny. My body was obviously trying to tell me it had, had enough. The last few weeks have been terribly stressful and difficult – mixed in with the grief. There’s not a whole lot I know right now. But I know that the lifestyle changes I’ve wanted for so long are absolute necessities now. Being sick this week just drives that point home even more clearly than before.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I am praying about that though. I have two more days at home before heading back to work on Tuesday. I will continue to rest as my body has demanded. I hope that in the coming weeks I’ll get into a better writing routine and updating here, as well.

Even though I’m sick, it was hard to ignore the beautiful skies today, while walking the dog.

All around, I’m not ready to be home – though I’ve been here for nearly a week. But I am ready to be feeling better and gaining clarity about what the future holds for me. In my gut I think I know the answer. I hope I have the patience to pull it off.

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Saying Goodbye

Melrose Abbey Memorial Park, Matt Avalos

I wrote a eulogy for my brother’s memorial service (held yesterday). Here is what I wrote. I missed sharing a few things as I was standing in that chapel. The emotion took over and I was shaking. I couldn’t read my notes. But I got through most of it. The photo above was where the service was held. We had to add chairs because there were so many people the wooden pews were full.

Matt Avalos ~ June 8, 2022

There’s a quote from a football movie, Rudy, that Matt & I loved growing up. The priest in the movie says to Rudy, “Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I’m not Him.” I feel like I know slightly more than two things – but not much more. I don’t understand why this happened. I may never understand. The day I found out about my brother’s death was the worst day of my life.

But what I do know for sure is that Matthew is the happiest he’s ever been. He is the healthiest he has ever been. He knows no more pain. He is at perfect peace. I’m sure the first thing he did was find all four of our grandparents. He loved them so much. They were four of the most important people in his life. While I grieve the loss of my only sibling and my parents grieve the loss of their only son, I also know that he knows total joy and happiness and that comforts me some.

Matt was a special kid and grew to be a loving, caring friend and man. When he was a kid, he was a daredevil and rode a “Big Wheel” like a big kid, before he was even out of a diaper. When he was about five, he jumped off a booth at church, fell flat on the concrete, knocking out his front teeth. Why? Because it looked fun, I’m sure. In the slideshow, you can see his school picture – the one where he looks mad and he’s not smiling – it’s because he was hiding a toothless grin.

He loved a good adventure and was always up for leading some mischief with our apartment complex friends. He was always making friends and always finding fun. He was the extrovert – I was the introvert. He made friends everywhere – he reminded me of my Grandpa Avalos in that way. When we moved into a bigger apartment, with our own rooms, he was so excited. To top it off, he had his cousins and apartment friends there the day we moved in. He headed toward the sliding glass door that led out to our patio. His toy guns were out there and he was in another world – excited to have so many people to play with. He literally ran straight through the sliding glass door. He ended up with some stiches in his hand and near his forehead. But he came through otherwise unscathed. But something about that is so Matt to me because he was too excited and happy to notice anything around him – including the closed door.

When we were kids, Matt and I played a ton of video games together – but Super Mario Bros was our favorite. We watched movies together and when we were with my dad, spent a lot of time mini-golfing at Camelot. I live across the country and hadn’t been in SoCal for a while. I was surprised to see it was still there. We watched a lot of movies with my dad too – some of our favorites where Ghostbusters, Strange Brew, and Stakeout. I’m sure my mom wasn’t too thrilled with some of those movies especially when Strange Brew had us walking around saying, “Hey Hoser,” to each other.

During summer football practice (my dad was a coach) and during the season, we would be walked down to the high school (it was at the end of my grandparent’s street), by our Aunt Diane or Grandpa. We’d hang out there in the coach’s office while they were watching game day tape or we’d go play “tennis” on the tennis court, or hang out with the football players in the weight room. I’ve always believed those years were formative and impacted Matt and his interest and skill in coaching, later.

Matt as an adult was a loyal and caring friend. He loved his people and that is obvious from what we’ve seen and heard from his friends since May 27th. Matt took good care of the people in his life. He was a good caretaker for my dad and he was a loving son.

On my birthday, just shy of a month before he passed away, he sent me a birthday message that made me cry – it was so sweet. It meant the world to me. One of the things he said was that we should take a trip for our birthdays in 2023 – we are both April babies. I loved the idea and began wondering what we could to do. I’m still going to do that trip – maybe camping – since we loved it so much. I will take that trip in his honor.

Here’s a quick note to add: One thing that has become clear to me since May 27th, is that I won’t – absolutely will not – waste anymore time. Our time is too precious & we just don’t know how much of it we have. I’m also determined as never before, to be honest with those that I love (about how I feel about them) and to never regret being myself, sharing my heart, and sharing it openly. I was regretting some of that over the last year – particularly sharing my heart with someone I never heard from again. But, I won’t regret being honest about how I feel, ever again. Losing my brother has reminded me of how quickly life changes. And I just refuse to live with regret any longer.

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My Brother’s Memorial Service

It has felt like a lifetime since we learned that my brother passed away. At this time, the preliminary cause of death is hypertension and an enlarged heart. My brother was younger than me by two years. We have heart issues – including congestive heart failure on both sides of our family. It has awakened this determination in me to get healthier. Matt was on that journey too. He’d lost 40 pounds by his birthday in April and was still working on it. I was proud of him for focusing on his health & well-being.

Matt Avalos, abby the wonder dog
My very scared of men, dog – meeting my brother for the first time (2011). He crawled to meet her since that was about all she could muster – a small crawl over to him. He was very patient with her.

Something about that has made this harder to take in a way. He was young – too young to die because of a heart issue and high blood pressure. It’s sobering. And mixed in with the grief is a building determination to reduce my own risk factors.

Matt Avalos, Elaina Avalos

We are working our way through our to-do lists so we can focus on my brother, seeing our families, and for me – trying to figure out what my Dad may need, that I can help with.

The memorial is not an expected expense any parent plans on. It’s not something you prepare for – to bury your youngest child – regardless of their age. I created a GoFundMe for my parents to help with the costs. We have about a 6,300.00 need and we’re about halfway there between the GoFundMe and private donations. Another thing you don’t think about when you’re in your 40s – purchasing some additional life insurance to cover burial costs. But I absolutely will be doing that for my mom and me both, as soon as I can. These are things you just don’t think about. It’s overwhelming: https://gofund.me/9beeea72.

matt avalos, cindy avalos, elaina avalos

We are heading to California and in spite of the circumstances, it’s the first time I’ve been home in far too long. The last long trip was 2014. In 2015 I was there but I think it was only to pick up my mom (who was moving to NC). I am looking forward to seeing my family, being in SoCal, eating real Mexican food :), and being “at home.” I also have a mission to complete on my brother’s behalf. I’ll share that later.

Tonight, I’m working on a photo slide show for Matt’s service. I think I know what song/songs I want to use, but it’s going to be hard to tone down my photo choices. There are so many I love.

Grief is exhausting. But I’m thankful to be moving forward.

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The Thing of it is…

The thing of it is…I feel this deep sorrow. There’s so much grief. And also, there is joy. I know in this whirlwind, He is here.

“You are all that I need…”

“Thirsty for the living well

Only You can satisfy

Sweetness at the mercy seat

Now I’ve tasted, it’s not hard to see

Only You can satisfy”

“It’s nothing short of a miracle, I’m here…”

“Like when You healed my mother (I can’t even, I can’t even count ’em all)
When You redeemed my father (I can’t even, I can’t even count ’em all)
Even in the death of my brother (I can’t even, I can’t even count ’em all)
You were closer than no other (one, two, three, four, I can’t even count ’em all)
Oh, You broke my chains (I can’t even)
You saved my life (I can’t even count ’em all)
You set me free (I can’t even)
You gave me victory (I can’t even count ’em all)
Oh, I can’t even count ’em all (I can’t even, I can’t even count ’em all)
You kept my mind, Lord (I can’t even, I can’t even count ’em all)”

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Losing my Brother

I mean, we were cute.

I don’t know what other people do when their world is turned upside down, but I write. My “baby” brother passed away at his home, today. He lived in Southern California with my Dad. He was my dad’s primary caregiver. My dad had a heart attack and then later had a stroke. He took care of their home and my dad’s basic needs.

I am overwhelmed, shocked, and don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to grieve, help my parents – one of whom is thousands of miles away and can’t fully care for himself, or face a future without my only sibling. Losing my brother was not the thing I imagined happening next in our lives. I did dream and hope for a trip next year – that we’d chatted about briefly. This is not what I hoped for May 2022 – or any time for that matter.

It was only recently that we started talking again. It’s a long story. Earlier this year we started chatting again. But he has always been dearly loved by me. And I hoped that someday we would be close again. We started inching closer and then on my birthday I got the sweetest message from him. It is one I’ve waited for, for many years. I love him. I wanted what was best for him, always. And I hoped and prayed we had some good years ahead planning trips, hanging out, and enjoying some good chow and drinks together. The last message he sent me was earlier this month. It was a silly little “May the fourth be with you” kind of thing. It was from our favorite Mexican restaurant at home (Moreno’s).

Matt was younger than me by two years – our birthdays just 8 days apart. One never believes they will lose their younger brother in any scenario. As kids, we celebrated our birthdays together (see below). I was the well-behaved kid who never wanted to do anything wrong. He was a wild child, always getting into scrapes and crazy adventures. He did not care one bit about getting trouble. He lived for the thrill of mischief. Haha. He once jumped off a little booth thing at church and fell flat on the concrete knocking out his teeth. He also ran through our glass sliding glass door once, on the day we moved into our new apartment. When he was just a toddler, he closed our stroller on my toes and I had to go to the ER and get stitches. 🙂 The day he ran through the glass, he was so excited to be moving, playing with his friends – it was all an adventure with that one – he didn’t even know the door was closed. He ran straight through the glass. Needless to say, life with Matthew Philip was always a little wild.

Matt’s 3rd b-day, my 5th.

I love him dearly. My heart hurts. And I know I am only scratching the surface this evening as my mind fills with so many things. My main task in writing this, was to put it on “paper” – let the words flow through my fingers – to make it more real – because shock has been my primary “feeling” since I got the news. Shock and trying to figure out how to take care of my parents. I am heartbroken and I know this will be a long journey. I hurt for my parents. And I know there’s much to unpack. Tonight, my primary goal in filling this space with my words, is to think of that tenderhearted man and to feel. Feel the loss, but also the joy of memories.

Matt loved deeply. He was passionate about so many things, especially football. He was a great cook. He enjoyed it so much, I honestly always wished he would give a culinary career a shot. I think he missed a calling – in terms of his vocation. He would have been a kick ass chef. 😉 There are many more things to say. And maybe soon I’ll share some memories here. For now, I am not sure what to do next. All I can do for sure is make a promise to him that I won’t waste any more time.

I am devastated. My family is devastated. And I am not sure how to take the next step. All I know for sure is, I don’t want to do this alone.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18

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“I love you, whatever you do – But I got a life to live too…”

“I love you, whatever you do – But I got a life to live too…” – Brandi Carlile

As I wade through my options and look forward to the future – and to building the life I have waited so long for, there is one thing that feels . . . off. I guess it was bound to happen. It doesn’t surprise me that I’d get here – to the fork in the road and feel unsettled – in spite of knowing what I want and sensing the path I need to take to get there. As I hope & pray for a new opportunity – including one that may take me across the country, I know I’m taking more steps toward letting you go.

When I wrote “Wild Things” in August of 2020, I was already predicting this fate. It’s just really hard for me to give up and let go. I suck at it, to be honest. And so, as I throw my heart and soul into pursuing this life I’ve been waiting on, I do so knowing I’m also taking steps that seal my fate – settling into the cold, wild – alone.

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My Kind of Love

Before my recent vacation started, I started re-watching my all time favorite television show, LOST. You have to type it out that way . . . L-O-S-T, or you’re not a true LOSTie. So anyway, the show will always stick with me because of what the Show Runners, writers, and directors did with the characters throughout its six seasons. For a show that was filled with everything from time travel to age-old questions of faith vs. science, mystery, and even violence – it did what other action-packed dramas on television have never done for me – made me love its characters.

As someone that writes character-driven fiction, it was only natural that I’d fall in love with the characters themselves. They’re not exactly lovable. They’re not exactly worthy of hate, either. While there are a few characters that I will never like, for the most part, I love all of them. Each character is complex. None of them are fully good. Most of them aren’t fully bad, either. They’re like most of us – a healthy of mix of what’s good and what’s not.

Though I’m drawn to love stories in movies and books, those remain secondary to what has made me such a loyal fan of the show. That said (you knew I was going to throw a however comma in there, right?), there are some great love stories woven into the six seasons. It’s hard to pick which is my favorite – though Sawyer and Juliet and Jack and Kate certainly rise to the top. I’ve shared before that Desmond and Penny share one of my favorite television moments of all time. Above is another. While the whole clip is pivotal – in terms of the plot – it’s also another one of the perfect moments that passes between Desmond and Penny. Much like in my favorite moment between them, in The Constant.

It is ultimately their love that changes things, for everyone on the island – at least on the surface. But I love their love. It’s my kind of love. These two stay the course, in spite of insurmountable odds. Desmond – poor guy – he takes the worst of it, thanks to Penny’s horrible father. And even though there are moments when she wavers, in the beginning, she knows. She knows how loved she is. She knows how far Desmond will go to show her that.

Because of that, she waits. She doesn’t give up. While she waits, she’s constantly trying to figure out how to find Desmond so they can be reunited. At about 2:50 in the clip, Desmond recalls the words Penny has written him in a letter he keeps – to remind him of how and where they started. I remain uncertain that in season 1 – these two would become as important as they are in the rest of the seasons. Nonetheless, it is their determination and dedication to each other that keeps them on course.

This is my kind of love. If only. Strip away all the craziness of a TV show – these two have a few things going for them in addition to loving each other – loyalty, determination, and patience are a pretty solid foundation. It’s what sustains them through the darkest moments when all seems lost (pun intended). Like I said – if only.

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What Comes Next?

“I hope
you can find
peace
while
breathing
deep
without
knowing
what
comes
next.”
– Morgan Harper Nichols

What I know for certain is that life is uncertain. Making decisions about the future is tough sometimes. As I apply for jobs in California and various other locations around the country, the unknowns are mounting. What I don’t know, far outweighs what I do know. The challenge in moments like these is to keep my eyes fixed on God. My goal throughout this journey is being at peace with whatever comes my way.

I’m always up for an adventure. It has been awhile since I’ve had one, however. I think I’m due for one. So while I don’t know where the path is leading, I’m at peace.

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Birthdays, Vacations, & Other Random Thoughts

Captain Bob Beck, Captain Bob Beck's Marina Cafe, Jacksonville NC, elaina avalos, onslow county, only in onslow
Birthday lunch location…

A famous literary agent recently wrote a blog post about the need for writers to stop with the random blog posts. Oops. I respect almost everything she has to say. But, if I’m not random, I’m not sure I have anything to say (or write). So whatever.

Yesterday was my 46th birthday. I’m on vacation this week. Vacation seems to connote trips to exotic locales and exciting adventures. I’m at home – near the coast of North Carolina – it’s not exciting or exotic. I’ve napped. I have done ridiculous amounts of laundry (there’s a backstory for this). I re-arranged my living room/dining room/office space, with my mom. I ate at a restaurant I’ve never been to, though I’ve passed by it for 21 years. I’m applying for jobs and praying for God’s will for my career & life. I’ve cleaned up my kitchen, caught up on randomness, and maybe came to terms with all that’s missing.

Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, Beaufort, Beaufort NC, NC Maritime Museum, Beaufort Food & Wine, elaina avalos
Wine, Bread & Cheese Seminar – Beaufort Wine & Food Festival. Photo by Elaina Avalos.

Tomorrow, I head to the “Wine, Bread, & Cheese” seminar of the Beaufort Wine & Food – Spring Festival. The winery featured tomorrow is Napa Cellars. I can’t say for certain if I’ve ever had any of their wine. But I’m certain I’ll enjoy the pairings. While this year’s event is not at the Watercraft Center (huge bummer), it’s impossible not to love any locale in Beaufort. While we’ve had a cold front blow through and it will be a tad chillier than it has been, the salt air is about all I care about. I live in Beaufort when I first moved back to North Carolina, after a few years at home in California, and I miss it. On Friday and Saturday, I’ll be volunteering at a couple of other events. I am looking forward to that as well.

As my birthday month seems to do (the last six years), I’ve got much to think & dream about. And more to plan. One thing that has come into focus, is how much I’ve held onto the last few years, that I don’t want to hold onto – any longer. Everyone’s way of weeding their way through these types of things is different. I suppose the point at which we’re ready to dispose of them is different for everyone. This is my line in the sand. Tomorrow, I’ll add another. I’ll share that later. All in all, I continue to press forward, hoping someone will finally respond to my resume (so many jobs applied for) and that I might feel a little sense of closure.

No matter what, I’ll just keep plugging away until I know what comes next.

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Counting Down to Vacation

When I leave work on Friday, I will be on vacay until May 2nd. I cannot wait. I am counting down to vacation.

I’m on my back patio as I write this. It’s 7:10 and I should be starting my Sunday evening routine. But I am not ready for Monday and so I’m sitting here as the wind blows through the trees and as my playlist , plays – pretending it’s not time for me to wind down. The good news is, when I get home from work in the early evening and it’s still light out – I will make my way back out there.

So what happens on vacation? Rest. Projects at home. Writing. And the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival . This year, I’ve only bought tickets to one event. I’ll be volunteering at three others. I’m excited for that this year as something different.

Abby approves of the patio.

Speaking of wine – I’ve been making more deliberate choices when it comes to wine. I am choosing specific wines I’ve learned about through a variety of podcasts or on SOMM TV (yes, I subscribe to a streaming service about wine). Food & wine people are my favorite. Wine people more specifically. I adore them. When I used to attend wine dinners or wine tastings regularly, one thing I loved was how you could be with the most random people – from all walks of life – and have the best time even though you might initially think you don’t have anything in common. There is always, always something to find in common with folks.

Anyway…I’m working on being more deliberate in my choices when it comes to wine. But recently, I decided that I’d try a wine that I was drawn to only for it’s name. Hampton Water. I mean, weird. It’s a French rosé.

Hampton Water & its annoying glass “cork.”

Here’s the thing, it has a glass cork. I’ve never seen this before. I literally had to watch a video to learn how to open the wine. But I didn’t just have to watch a video, after the second time trying to open it (took me a half hour), I left it open on the counter – refusing to cork it again. Lol. “Vivino” – an app I use – decided that I would like this bottle and expected me to rate it 4.0 stars. I did not rate it 4 stars. I rated it 3. But now that I’m several days from trying it, I’m not sure if I rated it 3 because it wasn’t great or because I was so annoyed at how hard it was to open. I’m leaning toward the latter. I may try it again (if someone else opens it).

This guy is not bad. It’s on the cheaper end of what I’ve buying lately. But I have been enjoying it more than the more expensive Hampton Water. I love the stories that accompany the wines I’ve been choosing. And though I didn’t choose this Bordeaux wine for its story, choosing a wine with a high price point or its bottle or name is pretty pointless. I’d much rather drink a “cheaper” bottle over a trendier wine, at a higher price point – if I don’t enjoy it. Seems like a no-brainer, right? But people are out there doing that and it seems pointless.

Instead, move to where you want to live, do what you want to do, start what you want to start, and create the life you want to live today.

Dale Partridge

As I head into my last five days before a break of nine days, I am determined – more now than ever before – to create a life that I don’t feel a desperate need to get away from. It’s a phrase used frequently. I think it’s probably seen as cliché-ish, but as with many things that get overused – there’s still some truth to it.

My goal in the coming weeks and moths is to do just that.

P.S. Another 50 by 50 goal – learn how to make my own wine!

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Our Response to Stress

stress, maureen killoran, tiny buddha, tinybuddha.com

“It’s not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens. And response is something we can choose.” – Maureen Killoran

It has been a while since I’ve shared a podcast recommendation. Today, on my second favorite podcast (Being Well) Dr. Hanson & Forrest Hanson tackled the topic of stress in a episode called, “Understand and Manage Stress: Causes, Biological Basis, and Increasing Resilience.”

Here’s a bit of the description:
On this episode, Dr. Rick and Forrest Hanson take a deep dive into defining stress, how it functions, how it impacts our lives and bodies, and what we can do to repair from its effects. We discuss how to distinguish stress from effort, the influence of the modern world on how stressed we feel, the various biological mechanisms involved in stress, and the challenges presented by chronic exposure to it. We then consider what we can do to increase resilience, including positively responding to stressors even in the midst of limitations and uncertainty.

This is definitely worth your time. But you will need a little over an hour to tune in. It’s so worth it. I’m already on my second listen. If you’re prone to stress, work in a stressful environment, or just generally feel like your brain and body haven’t caught up after a traumatic or painful event, I think you will get a lot out of this.

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Neurons That Fire Together…

Neurons that fire together, wire together. ~ Donald Hebb

This is another one of those random rambling posts . . .

  1. Donald Hebb, a neuropsychologist said “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” many years ago. Essentially, it describes the process of neural pathways being formed and reinforced, in your brain, over time. This can be a positive thing. It can be a negative thing. Ultimately, it does highlight the power of our brains and our ability to positively change negative thought patterns or habits that hold us back. I’ve been working on this. Primarily, my goal is to learn how to stay on track as the positive, person I was born to be – who delights in the little sweet things and serving & taking care of people – no matter what’s happening around me. I had a rough week this last week. I can see, from my vantage point of my comfy couch, on a Saturday evening, how much better the week would have gone, had I remembered to practice mindfulness and a little meditation when things were particularly challenging in several situations that were negative and beyond my ability to control. At the end of the day, we have the ability to remain calm, at peace, and focused where we want our energy focused – even when there is chaos and negativity around us.
Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, Beaufort, Beaufort NC, NC Maritime Museum, Beaufort Food & Wine, elaina avalos
Photo by…me, at the Wine, Bread, & Cheese Seminar in 2017.

2. April is my birth month. When I turned 40, I went to the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival (now referred to as the Beaufort Food & Wine Spring Festival – because there’s a fall event, too!) as a gift to myself. A friend bought me a ticket to one event, too. I went for several years and then missed out when I had kids in my home (foster care) & then COVID ruined 2020’s event. This is the first time I’ve been in a while and I am excited to attend the “Wine, Bread, & Cheese” seminar (a favorite). This time & because I am trying to move my way into the hospitality world, I’ve decided to volunteer at two other events. I’ll be volunteering at the Spring Soirée & the Vin de Mer Epicurean Village. I cannot wait. I’m taking the week off, too! Though it’s a month away, I’m already counting down the days.

event planner, event management, wedding planner, coastal carolina events, elaina avalos

3. I love entertaining, hosting, cooking, and serving. I love the act of choosing wine to go with a meal I’m serving. I adore events with good food & great wine. Food & wine people are my fav. They are from all walks of life and when the drinks are flowing and the food is amazing, no one cares what you look like, where you come from, or what your degrees are or are not. I love when people attend my events and have a ton of fun or they’re so busy enjoying themselves, they don’t even know what time it is. When I’ve planned family events – like holiday parties, the best feeling (ever) was seeing our kids running around having a total blast. But even better was when I’d catch our young, single Marines, having fun (against their best efforts to have fun). My fav event ever, was when our Marines & families were so busy with stand up paddle boarding and kayaking, hiking, and enjoying our meal, they had no idea we were packing up to head home. Although it’s not talked about a lot, those who have a Christian faith, as I do, believe there are various gifts that we are given – by God. Hospitality is a “spiritual gift” and it’s one I have. One of the best feelings I have had in the last 11+ years in my current career, in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, is how often my “co-workers” told me they came to my office because it was so “peaceful.” They came for snacks, for a break in the quiet of my office, and because “it smells so good in here.” Haha. I got such a kick out of that. Hospitality – it’s a joy to me. I absolutely love welcoming people into my environment (whatever that may be). And though it may take a while, I know that my next career has that as its primary focus.

event planner, event management, wedding planner, coastal carolina events, elaina avalos, oprah winfrey

5. Tonight, it’s this song . . .

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LOST & the Love/Hate Relationships with Your Favorite Characters

Big Sur, Big Sur California, pexels, piccing from pexels, elaina avalos
Photo by Piccinng from Pexels

I don’t live near the sea anymore. I thought I would miss it – but the mountains of North Carolina have taken up residence in my heart. I was raised beside the wild Pacific, on a ranch and vineyard, one of only a few along that shoreline, nestled into the mountains and hills of the Big Sur coastline. The coastal landscape along the winding Highway 1 is at once stunning and agonizingly lonely. It’s melancholy – like me. Giant Redwoods tower above you on one side and then within a few steps, cacti and wild California brush co-mingle with an intoxicating scent that you get to enjoy when it rains – or when the landscape is warmed on summer days.

It was there, on those lonely hills, that my life became both deeply painful and shockingly beautiful.
When I left California, nearly seven years ago now, I did so with little more than a weekend trip to the mountains of North Carolina to decide it was what was next for us. I knew very little about the place that would be come home to Jackson and I.

***

I put aside my novel, A Thousand Years, for a while. But I may have found a good way ahead for a novel that was floundering. It’s still a lot of work and a major rewrite. So much so that I’m contemplating making part of the wall in my dining room (that’s really just an office and a place for the dog to sleep her life away), into a plot wall. I have no idea how I’ll make this work, but in my head, it’s something like this . . .

🙂

But I’m thinking character’s names, important dates, scenes, etc. and then plugging in and moving around as need be. In part, this novel is two distinct stories – and that’s where it got weird and confusing. I wanted to get the thing written. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t fit the entirety of this story into one novel. It just didn’t want to work with me. What I’m saying is . . . it had a mind of its own.

If I’m honest, this “novel” should probably be written as a script. Except I have no clue what I’m doing in that regard. I have never attempted, nor do I know where to start, when it comes to writing a script. Two of my favorite writers, directors, and show runners – are the two men above (Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof). What they did with LOST – in terms of the characters, is and always will be inspiring to me. While I loved the storyline, that faithful viewers followed throughout its 6 seasons, it is actually the characters themselves that I grew to love more than the plot.

I didn’t care about all of the explanations about the weird things that happened on the island as much as I cared about the character’s journeys. They were weird, complicated, beautiful, and sometimes, really bad people. It was hard, at many points, to determine whether you hated or loved a character. Or maybe hated is too strong a word. Either way – they were complicated. A character like Sayid Jarrah, for instance, was terribly hard to figure out. He was a torturer – literally. Yet, he was deeply burdened by his past life – regretting all of it. He also found it much easier to slip back into his old ways when the need would arise. But I digress. The point was, I loved Sayid. But it wasn’t always easy to love him. Sawyer is another example. He was deeply, deeply flawed. He pushed everyone away and seemed, at times, to happily convince others to hate him. Yet, we learned throughout the show, what started him on this path. And that made all of the difference in the world in how you viewed him.

I love writers and directors who can tell stories like that – stories that make you love the characters in spite of their flaws, that is. All along, A Thousand Years, was a novel about family. The problem is, I started too far along into the story. Birdie Langston’s story didn’t start where I started writing the novel. It went way back. Way, way back. That became apparent quite quickly. Birdie (the protagonist) was trying to get through to me the whole time. I listen well. Except when it comes to writing. Sometimes I get something in my head and don’t see around the original vision, even when a bigger story is taking shape.

I’m now rambling on – but while I’m on my tangent – let’s talk about LOST again and how characters take on a life of their own. Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof could certainly clear this up for me, but there are times I wonder if two of the LOST characters were intended to become who & what they became (when the show runners began working together). Those two characters are Desmond & Penny. They played pivotal roles, in the development of LOST overall, in my opinion. But I’m not 100% convinced it was always meant to be that way. Or perhaps I should say, I’m not certain they started out this way. And yet, in spite of that, the two are among my favorites. They also happen to be the stars of my favorite moment of all six seasons of LOST. It’s hands down my favorite. There’s no way to explain what brought these two to this moment, so I won’t even try. But it is, without fail, the moment that always, always gives me chills. I have seen it dozens and dozens of times and it still gives me chills at exactly the same moments, literally every time. Penny is Desmond’s “constant.” And man, this was an incredible TV moment. It’s romantic, beautiful, and a bit of encouragement – for all of us hoping that rescue was somewhere on the horizon.

If I’m wrong, and Penny & Desmond were in the plan from day one – to always have this moment (that would usher in a whole new direction for the show) – it only drives home for me how important it is for the writer to take a backseat. A story that wants to be told should be indulged. Even if it takes you to Scotland, England, and a freighter in the middle of the ocean – way out of the action on the island.

And so, I’m back. But the clock is being reset and the story is starting somewhere else – in another day and time. It starts with the family that raised Birdie and the soil they love, the hard work that made them, and the determination – that created the woman that Birdie would eventually become.

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Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell

frida kahlo, marty mcconnell, elaina avalos, frida kahlo to marty mcconnell, take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic

Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell
by Marty McConnell

leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses.
you make him call before
he visits. you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.

I’d like to add – perhaps I should insert my own name in here “Frida Kahlo to Elaina Avalos…” Also, I deserve better.

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It’s the Little Things

Trader Joe's Flowers, Trader Joe's Daffodils, Daffodils, Elaina Avalos

It’s the little things that mean the most, sometimes. The joy – for me, is in the hike in the forest, when the only sounds around me are the birds, or the wind through the pines, or in the view from my kitchen window.

In no particular order, here’s where I’m clinging to the little things & the way they bring me joy & delight . . .

1. Fresh daffodils in my favorite vase.

Kitchen Window View, Trees, Woods, Elaina Avalos

2. The view from my kitchen window.

3. The hope that God’s plan, which I can’t fully see yet, is far better than my own.

Your Plan and God's Plan, Elaina Avalos

4. Memories of our chats (and maybe even arguments) are priceless to me now. Your defense of me, support, our conversations, and your eyes (maybe also your cologne) – are the best thing in the absolute mess of the last few years. I miss the joy I felt being around you. I truly miss you, my friend.

5. My quiet home.

6. Being heard.

7. Sunsets.

Eastern NC sunset, Carolina sunset, ENC Sunset, Elaina Avalos

8. New to me songs…

Honestly, it’s the sweet moments, in my quiet house, with these little “things” – that have helped me feel like I’ve finally returned to myself.

So what are some of your favorite “little” things?