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Wait for Someone Who Loves You Differently

JmStorm, wait for someone who loves you differently, elaina avalos

I write fiction. All of it – every last bit of it – is about relationships, families, and romantic love. That can be a little annoying sometimes, to be honest. I love, love. My desire is to be in the event industry (again) and much of that is wedding-focused. I absolutely adore helping people plan their most important moments in life. When I helped open an event venue, my tours and long conversations with our potential brides & their families, were a joy. Truly. Embarrassingly, I am a fine connoisseur of Hallmark Christmas & romance movies & rom coms. I’m a nerd.

It’s just who I am. I can’t change it. I don’t want to. But like I said . . . also, annoying. The thing is, I keep the creative juices flowing with the music I listen to, the things I read, the movies I watch, etc. As a single person who has no clue if love & marriage are in her future (I’m certain I’ll have kids), it’s weird. It’s just weird. But it has given me a gift nonetheless. The gift is a certainty of what I want, a determination to wait for what’s right – not what’s easy, and a belief that it’s worth waiting for. I’m willing to wait for someone who loves me differently.

Wait for someone who
loves you differently.

JmStorm


I can live my life alone. What I can’t do is live my life with someone who is only marginally interested in investing fully in “us.” What I won’t do is chase a man – ain’t nobody got time for that. You’re in – or you’re out. If you can’t take a tiny risk by pursuing and opening the door, we’re not compatible. There’s a lot of passion in this 5’3 person. And while I would absolutely love to meet a man who balances that out with some calm steadiness, I also would hate life if he didn’t feel deeply enough, that he doesn’t know what he wants, thinks, or feels. I need a man in my life who knows what he wants and goes after it. That’s true in all things – to include how he pursues “us.”

I’ve climbed out on a limb, for a man, too many times. It’s just not something I can do anymore. If a man can’t be bothered to match effort to effort or make the first move, it’s just not gonna work. I’m so convinced of this, I’m willing to be alone. It’s not what I’d prefer, but it is what I know to be true. And it’s something I’d wait for. I know with total certainty that this can come across like I’m the princess that expects everything to be about her. That’s not at all what I’m saying. What I am saying is that it’s worth it. I’m worth it. We all are. I’ve watched friends marry because they don’t want to be alone. But then they are miserable because they chose what was easy – not what they truly wanted or deserved (that goes for males & females).

If you’re like me and you know what you want – don’t be afraid to wait for it or go after it. The wait may not be easy, but it will be worth it.

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Dating is Like Torture

I’ve come to believe, as of this week, that waterboarding would probably be a more pleasant experience than dating. Dating is like torture. Am I right? If I told you how stupid the last week and a half has been, you wouldn’t believe me. The thing is, it’s not going to get any better living where I live.

It’s okay to give up, right? Because I give up. Am I the only one that’s given up? Lol. Please tell me I’m not alone.

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Learning to Let Go

new bern nc, elaina avalos, autumn colors, christ episcopal church

Life has passed by very quickly the last couple of weeks. Work tends to do that to me. I’m one who wants to savor and slow the moments. My favorite pace is no pace. Haha. I’m a flip flop wearing, windows down, slow it down – kind of girl. Last I remember (okay, this is a slight exaggeration), it was October 1st. And here it is, almost the 22nd. I’m rushing through my days trying to get projects for work taken care of – which tends to mean my head is down and my energy is focused on what happens between 8-4, Monday through Friday.

Autumn is such a beautiful time of the year. While I am a great lover of all things Christmas (I have Christmas issues), I absolutely treasure the change of summer to autumn. Growing up in Southern California, we just didn’t do seasons. Not really. Sure, there are changes. But you’re just as apt to wear a sweatshirt on the beach in June, as you are in December. Nothing makes sense at home. “June Gloom” is a phrase any resident of “SoCal” understands well. If you live near-ish the coast, it’s not unusual to grab a sweatshirt for the bonfire on a summer night. Our summer days are hot. We have heat waves. But it can also be blessedly mild (all year). SoCal doesn’t have trees quite like we do here. It is a desert, after all. So the colors associated with this change of season aren’t as prevalent. There are exceptions. The photo below is from the mountains (Oak Glen, CA). I snapped that photo about 11.5 years ago. I couldn’t resist because it’s not a site I saw all that often. When I moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2000, I was in heaven. Autumn in our nation’s capital is a sight to behold. It’s just not the same at home. I was in love. I knew then that I didn’t ever want to live anywhere I couldn’t experience the four seasons – in some form.

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.

L.M. Montgomery – from Anne of Green Gables


In the south, where I live now, summer is a joy to me too (for a few weeks). And then, when we hit mid-July or early August, I’m done. Done. It’s hot. It’s humid. And for a person who loves the outdoors, being outside is just . . . soul-sucking. As the temperatures drop here in the south, the humidity begins to dissipate too. There’s a chill in the air – in the mornings and I have to wear a jacket to work. Of course, by the time we’re midway through the day, the car is hot and I don’t even want to look at that jacket.

Along with the cooler temps, low humidity, and the color on the trees (it is slow-going out here on the coast), there’s a special golden glow of light in the early evening hours. It’s unlike anything I’d ever seen at home. I adore it. The scent of bonfires and burning leaves is a constant. Autumn reminds me of the ways that life shifts and changes. Autumn reminds me that no season in our lives is permeant. We may find ourselves dormant in the winter – feeling cold and dreary as the grey takes over – but eventually, life springs forth again.

I hate waking up, after a season has passed, with the realization that the piling up of the Monday-Friday made me miss the sweet, quiet moments I treasure and savor. Last fall, while I did write a novel – my life moved at a pace I couldn’t sustain. I don’t want that anymore. The goal, as I stay in place – because a weird God (but I love Him anyway), doesn’t move me – is to sustain the pace I long for, regardless of where life takes me.

oak glen ca, elaina avalos, autumn colors

Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.

Unknown

This is not an easy feat – sustaining the pace you long for, even when life is crazy. The truth is, life is in each moment. And yes, that means work & the stuff you don’t care for, too. The question is, where do you want to invest most your time, heart, effort, and energy? That’s an easy answer for me. Autumn is a stunning example of what it means to let go. I’m sure you’ve heard variations of the quote above. Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go. Learning to let go is a beautiful thing. Green – the deeper and brighter the better – is a reminder of life and all things new. As those green leaves change to yellows, oranges, browns, and reds – and begin to fall to the ground, it’s a quiet signal that in spite of the loss of the green, life is just as beautiful as always.

Once the leaves fall and life looks rather drab through the grey winter, there’s still growth happening. Deep in the ground and in the trees and plants, these processes continue on – though you can’t see them. This time of year, as the colors deepen and prepare us for the long days of winter, I’m reminded of grace, too. This is the beauty of the changing of the seasons. I needed the reminder this week to slow down. If you’re racing through your days, I hope you will take the time to slow everything down to savor the beauty, before winter comes – internally and in the world around you.

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Honor Your Own Needs

heather plett, trauma, caring for yourself, self care, tiny buddha, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

Can anyone else relate? I sure can. This quote by Heather Plett & shared by TinyBuddha.com really struck me this evening. The art of caring for one’s self is a challenge for people like me – for many reasons. But among them, as I mentioned in a round about way here, being a people-pleaser can cause you to push yourself too far to make or keep everyone happy. And because you can’t actually achieve that, you keep pushing yourself to reach unattainable end. But what’s behind it? In this post, I wrote, “When I should watch and guard my time and well-being, I place others above myself to my detriment. Why? Good question. Why do you do it? Answering that question for ourselves is healing.”

This image above, with Heather Plett’s quote, perfectly answers why I have done it. It’s the trauma that taught me that I am only safe, accepted, loved, etc., when I behaved and spoke exactly as everyone else wanted. So naturally, being consumed by pleasing everyone around me was the result. I did so to my detriment for years on end. If you find yourself in this pattern, I hope this quote will be helpful to you. It was and is, to me.

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Eating Well When You’re Too Exhausted to Cook

Eating well when you're exhausted, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos, autoimmune disease, paleo

One of the most challenging aspects of chronic illness – autoimmune disease in particular – is that there are often elements of our illnesses that would be significantly easier on us, if we just had the danged energy to do them. Or, in the best case scenario, they may even be practices that help put us into remission. Two of the hardest, in my opinion, are exercise and eating well.

Eating well when you’re exhausted, is not easy. I don’t have the answers. I’m still struggling through this myself. In the last month, I’ve made some attempts to right the ship in terms of my gut health overall. But it’s hard work. If your autoimmune disease is attacking or destroying your gastrointestinal system, hopefully your docs will give you the right combo of meds so that healing can begin. But I believe strongly that what we put into our bodies, is a critical piece of the healing journey.

I’ve always thought this. I just haven’t always had the ability to do it. What I know for sure is that exactly one month ago, I started getting sick every time I ate. I wasn’t particularly nauseous, though I often struggle with nausea. I couldn’t eat anything but extremely bland food. Anything that was “normal” food – just didn’t work. I was sick for a couple of weeks without being able to figure out what was truly going on. I didn’t have the flu – it went on for too long.

So, I went drastic and removed everything in my house that potentially had gluten cross-contamination, anything with “gums” such as xantham or guar gum, almost all processed foods, etc. I removed all dairy. And while I intended to remove all grains, it was gluten free pasta and rice that I seemed to tolerate without getting sick, so I kept those on hand.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

Hippocrates


I’ve settled on Paleo as the type of eating I feel may be safest and healthiest for me. The problem is, for the most part, it requires that you cook nearly all of your food at home. I started reading Danielle Walker’s memoir, as I mentioned here and I bought her second cookbook. After reading through the cookbook and based on what I already knew, I came up with a plan.

I bought locally raised meat (which is pricey for me as a single person – but I will do about once a month), mostly organic herbs, vegetables, and fruit. We live in an area that struggles to get everything we need at times, so there were some fresh vegetables I couldn’t get that week. I bought frozen instead (don’t recommend canned).

The cookbook has a meal plan that includes grocery lists and all. It’s super helpful for organizing. I made some simplifications where I could. For example, in the first week’s meal plan, there are chicken ranch wraps. The recipe calls for homemade wraps. I will get to this eventually. But I just didn’t have the strength to deal with that too. What I did know I could find was “coconut wraps” (which I love). I couldn’t get the wraps from Thrive Market in time – so even better, I went to a sort-of local store that sells specialty, organic, vegan, keto, etc., food. The coconut wraps are straight up, simple food without any junk. They’re coconut, salt, and the Thrive brand also uses coconut oil.

Overall that week I made Danielle Walker’s Crockpot Thai Beef Stew, a shredded pork shoulder dish, baked bacon for my “ranch wraps” and my Mom baked up some of the chicken (breasts & thighs) for me. By far, my favorite recipe was the Thai Beef Stew! The beef, from a local farm, is some of the best I’ve had in ages. The stew (linked above) was filled with goodness – carrots, broccoli, coconut milk, fish sauce, red curry, and more. The stew was served over coconut lime cauliflower rice.

Crockpot Thai Beef Stew, Danielle Walker, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos

If you’re on your own, like I am, this is extremely intimidating. And honestly, it feels next to impossible. My mom came over to help me prep. She helped me with washing and cutting some veggies and helped get my kitchen organized beforehand. Using someone else’s system via the cookbook, helped a lot. I made a list of what I would need to do first and in what order. I highly recommend you doing this if you struggle with organization and memory issues like I do.

I was hopeful though – hopeful that after almost two weeks of getting sick after eating, I was on the right track.

I ended up getting sick that very night. I am not going to lie, I was heartbroken all day Monday. I was also exhausted from shopping for the food (though most of it was just pre-ordered and picked up), and then cooking. I felt defeated the next day. I won’t lie – I have been on a roller coaster ever since. I’ve gotten sick a few times since then. When it happens, I revert back to very bland food for a couple of days and then go right back to eating my delish food.

I did roll back my decision to not eat any processed food or grains. With getting sick so much and feeling so exhausted by it all, I added in some comfort food – like corn tortillas, as an example. They’re gluten free and there’s no junk in them. But my system will probably eventually need a total break from the grains like rice and corn. For now, it is what it is.

If you have to backslide a little, especially if your autoimmune disease isn’t under control, don’t beat yourself up. Do the best you can. I’m a snacker for instance. This new way of eating cuts out my absolute favorite thing to much on – tortilla chips! Last grocery order, I went half way and ordered a blue corn organic chip that had no junk – whatsoever. This order, I don’t have any munchies. Do what you can, when you can. At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

Here are a couple of other things I’ve bought or am doing:

– Coconut yogurt from So Delicious (I was so hungry last night before bed and had vanilla coconut yogurt, blueberries, and a tiny smidge of raw honey).
– Smoothies for breakfast

healthy smoothies, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

So much of the almond milk out there has junk in it. But you guys – I’m just not at a place where I can make it like I probably should. So for now, I’ll buy the cleanest brands I can (most have the gums in them). While I have tons of fruit, including some that are great for your gut like pineapple or are anti-inflammatory like cherries – this week, I’ve enjoyed the smoothie above:

– 1 Cup of almond milk
– 1 (or 2) Tablespoons of almond butter
– Banana (frozen banana would probably be better)
– I used 1 scoop Ancient Nutrition Chocolate Bone Broth powder
– Any protein or collagen powder would be great
– Avocado is also a great addition – You can find cubed, frozen avocado at Wal Mart too.
– If you don’t have a collagen or protein powder that has a natural sweetener, a teaspoon of raw honey is great. If your bananas are very ripe, you probably don’t need any additional sweetener.
– Add all ingredients to blender and blend until combined.

Tomorrow (a day off work), I’ll be making a beef and pork roast to save for meals throughout the next week or two. I still have chicken from the previous cooking marathon! Next weekend, I’ll order from the local farm again. If you don’t cook your meals after prepping, you can place all ingredients, including the raw meat, in plastic bags and freeze. And then, for those recipes that are crockpot friendly, you’d place in your crockpot before leaving for work for the day.

If you cook and freeze, wait until the food has cooled and divide into freezer bags or glass or plastic containers, to stack in the freezer. The goal is to spend 1-2 days cooking vs requiring the energy to do it each day.

This makes eating well when you’re struggling with exhaustion, just a smidge easier. It made a huge difference over the last couple of weeks to know that I could grab something healthy and homemade from the freezer, without having to think too much. If you’re like me and have to work full time (that’s a whole other post), the last thing you want when you come home exhausted, is to worry about cooking food that’s good for you.

Making a transition like this is not easy. To be honest, I’ve been plenty discouraged. But find time savers where you can. If you can’t make everything from scratch just yet, find specific ways you can make adjustments and go for it. For instance, make 2-3 meat-based dishes that can be used for lunches and dinner and maybe use convenience foods like frozen bags of cauliflower rice (versus trying to make it from scratch), to eat with your main dishes. Find healthy “wraps” for sandwiches or divide up salad mixes into individual containers and add your meat dishes for salads throughout the week.

This is going to be a process. It’s not easy. I’m a foodie. I love cooking and the whole process of deciding on food, wine, or even cocktails to go with meals. I love cooking over the holidays. I mean, I adore it. Finding yourself in a position where you can’t eat what you love, stings. Being so fatigued that simple life tasks are excruciating, doesn’t help.

But if I can do it, with a stressful job, and challenges all around me – you can too. What are some ways you’ve made meal prep or healthy eating a priority or easier on yourself? I would love to hear!

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How to be Unwell

brene brown, talk to yourself as you would someone you love, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our own needs first, so that we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of.

Jennifer Louden

When I re-launched this blog a while back, I wanted to focus on wellness (alongside my fiction). It has been interesting to see where this wellness journey has taken me. I thought I’d figured some things out. But I learn the hard way. Oh how I learn the hard way. God made me a fighter. I don’t give up easily. Lordy, I do not give up.

This is a beautiful thing – to be so dedicated, to love so much, to care so much – that I fight until there’s a win. I don’t hate that about me. I’m proud of it. It’s also the bane of my existence. Hahaha. This penchant to stick to it until there’s change – until I’ve exhausted all resources – also sometimes means it is hard to learn lessons I desperately need to learn. I am a smart woman. But apparently, I’m sort of thick headed too. I was learning about wellness and what that means. I was working on it. But it hadn’t settled deep down into my bones.

I wrote in August about my health deteriorating. It is actually worse than I expected. I saw it coming. It’s like watching a hurricane, off our coast, in the Atlantic hurricane season. You watch that thing turn and turn as it gets closer to you, when you live in a hurricane zone. You know it’s coming. You do your best to brace for impact, but even still you can be caught unaware.

I have, even recently, feared what I wrote here. Even after promising myself I wouldn’t. But that’s pointless. If I can’t get a job because I’m a person who lives authentically and shares that, it’s not the place for me. If I write openly and if people somehow view me as less than or weak – because I write what I’m compelled to write, so be it.

It’s like a mother, when the baby is crying, she picks up the baby and she holds the baby tenderly in her arms. Your pain, your anxiety is your baby. You have to take care of it. You have to go back to yourself, to recognize the suffering in you, embrace the suffering, and you get a relief.

Thich Nhat Hanh


I’ve just finished Danielle Walker‘s new memoir, Food Saved Me. What I didn’t expect as I read this book, was to feel seen, hopeful, and also terribly fearful that it will take me longer than I can stand to think about – to find the solution to what’s happening with my health. But one thing the book convinced me of, was that I felt instant community with someone (Danielle) that I haven’t met. She wrote things about God, that I could have written. I felt less alone in this crazy mess, as I read.

As I finished the book the other night, I felt compelled to walk through this journey here – when I can. I’m working through the potential that I have new diagnoses that may come my way, or perhaps an incorrect diagnosis, leading me to be treated for the wrong thing for five or more years. I have three specialist appointments coming up at Duke – as I search for answers. I have things I’m changing in my “diet” and in how I manage the day to day at work and home. Thankfully, at work, I have some new help which is creating some space to reset.

But I believe we are whole persons. To treat one part of us when we’re sick (our bodies alone), I think we will ultimately fail. We are complex beings and I believe, spiritual beings, first and foremost.

I found a modicum of physical wellness in years past. But it didn’t seep into other places. I didn’t care for myself as I could have or should have. This last year and a half, on the heels of losing my son, was too much. The avalanche was too much – without caring for myself as a whole person – that is. There are some of you that know exactly what I mean. Right? You care for everything and everyone – except yourself.

Talk to yourself as you would someone you love.

Brene Brown


What does it mean to care for yourself? Self-care has come to mean bubble baths, dark chocolate, and a pedicure. It could be that. But that often grazes the surface, at least for me. Self- care means strong, deep boundaries. It means being protective of our time, our life, our home, and our hearts. It means leaving work at work. While my job requires interruptions at home, it cannot be as bad as it has for eleven years. I’ve allowed too much seepage. I care too much. More specifically, I care too much what people think. When I should watch and guard my time and well-being, I place others above myself to my detriment. Why? Good question. Why do you do it? Answering that question for ourselves is healing. For me, I’ve also allowed abusive behavior of individuals – one of whom even defined himself as a “snake” – to deeply impact my responses to things and to cloud my view of myself, my calling, and what I know to be true about myself, my expertise, and God’s call on my life.

Friend, I have shit to do. I have a calling. I have books to write, people to love, and hopefully a family waiting in the wings. I can’t get any sicker than I am in this moment. This is the end of the road on that front. But we are whole persons. So it can’t just be about physical healing. If you’re in a similar boat – whether you’re just starting out on a wellness journey, or you’re well on your way – the one thing I hope for you is that you will work on your heart and soul as you work toward physical healing.

I’ve learned in a painful way how great the fall is – when we fail that part of our lives. So where do we begin? Here are a few areas I failed in. Hahaha. These failures are where there’s goodness in our journey to wellness (if we do the opposite) though.

How to be unwell:
– Eat food-like substances, instead of actual food
– Move your body less & less
– Let other people’s opinions of you deeply impact how you view yourself
– Work late into the evening
– Work on the weekends
– Let abusive individuals impact you so deeply that you literally wither away into a person you don’t recognize
– Stop advocating for yourself
– If you’re a woman, letting men disrespect you without calling them out (not kidding – this is soul-crushing – terribly soul-crushing)
– Sleep less & less
– Don’t drink enough water
– Drink more alcohol
– Let the world cloud your vision of a God that loves you
– Don’t listen to your mama when she tells you to take better care of yourself
– Tell other people how to take care of themselves & then absolutely do not practice what you preach

That’s a pretty good list. But I’m sure we could add to it. What would you add? Next time I’ll share some of the steps I’m taking on the food front. But before I got to that, I felt the need to share this. If you’re reading along and you feel like sharing a few “things not to do,” I’d love to hear from you.

Take care of yourself this weekend. Outside of two errands tomorrow, it’s a weekend in bed for me. If your life won’t allow for that, I hope you will find some small way to invest in yourself – as you seek wellness.

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Trusting Unsafe People

art Bless the Messy, Bless the Messy, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons in my life. In recent years, I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons about who I can trust. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a while – after the fog lifts – to realize that you should not have trusted someone (with your time, heart, support, or even your most carefully held secrets or thoughts).

The worst part of trusting unsafe people is that they often present themselves as the only one/ones you can trust. When you’re in the so-called fog of war, it’s hard to know for sure. So how do you know who to trust and who not to trust? So hard. It’s so hard. I have no degrees. I’m not an expert in any field of use (haha) here. What I do have is experience – hard core experience.

Experience that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.

– William Nicholson – from The Shadowlands

Here’s what it boils down to:

TRUST. YOUR. GUT.

What if your gut is telling you that you can’t trust anyone in a specific environment (professional, personal, your neighborhood, whatever), or situation? That probably means you might want to be very careful and trust your gut until you see otherwise. I have been there. I trusted when I should not have. The charming one may catch your eye. But he or she isn’t always untrustworthy. Except when your gut tells you not to trust him. When everyone else has a bad opinion of someone – but your gut tells you something else – you might just be right. Conversely, there are people who are well-liked who are absolutely, 100% rotten people, who shouldn’t be trusted under any circumstances. Your gut is telling you

If you’ve been through trauma, could your people picker be off? Could your gut be wrong? It’s possible. It could also be super aware, as a result of your trauma, of who to avoid. What should you do in these moments? Trust yourself. If you’re in an environment that isn’t healthy, this need to protect yourself, set strong boundaries, and know your worth – is absolutely tied to your ability to trust yourself, too.

Trust your hunches. They’re usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.

– Dr. Joyce Brothers

Listen, this is a hard thing to figure out – especially in the murky, grey areas of life. But when you make a decision to trust yourself and your gut – when you come to a moment of acceptance that you actually know what the hell you’re talking about/feeling/knowing – things that once seemed so confusing, suddenly become clear.

If you’re on a wellness journey, or learning to set better boundaries, this is going to take some work. You may even make a mistake or two along the way. I have made more than I care to admit. And recently. When you get to one of those moments when you realize you probably shouldn’t have trusted someone with a part of your heart, life, etc., accept it for the lesson it is and keep moving. It’s hard, dude. But if you take the lesson with you, it becomes easier the next time around to invest your efforts, heart, etc., in people and places that are trustworthy. The first step is to trust that this is true and that your gut knows what the hell it’s talking about.



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Jade

Heisler Park, Heisler Park Laguna Beach, Sea Glass, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos

Heisler Park – Laguna Beach

Here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m starting to work on this month (Sea Glass Hearts)
and hope to finish in the next eight weeks!

On Saturday afternoon, my Realtor and/or fan girl, Tally, sent me a text message to remind me about the concert at Joe’s. I knew I needed to go. But I spent hours after, convinced it was one of my dumbest ideas yet. I’ve had so many. It’s getting harder and harder to track them. The thing about me is that I know myself well. I knew that if I replied and told her I’d be there, I would – even if I tortured myself all day, filling my day with anxiety and worry. So I replied, five minutes after I read it. “I’ll be there,” I said.

When I was a little girl, I moved from foster home to foster home – never staying anywhere very long. My story isn’t all the unique. There’s almost a half a million just like me, all over this vast country. My belongings were stuffed into a black trash bag each time I moved. I carried it from house to house – until I was five that is. I got my own luggage then, when one foster mom, who had to disrupt the placement because she got cancer, bought me a duffel bag set. I guess she felt bad. I don’t know. I lived with her for nine months. I liked her. I called her mom. She was the first one I called mom. I never called anyone mom, ever again. Not even the woman who adopted me at 16. Most of what I came into foster care with had disappeared over time – except two things. When I entered care, I had a necklace on – it was a little too much for my three-year-old self. I also had a letter, if you can call it that, that my mom had stuffed into my purse. I didn’t know about the letter until I was much older. But I wore the necklace the day my Mom told me to sit on a bench in Heisler Park, near a cliff over looking the Pacific. She said she wanted to buy us ice cream. She never came back. I barely remember her face. She walked away – her hair, blond and wavy, reached her waist. When I was older, I saw a photo of Stevie Nicks circa 1977, in a scrapbook, in one of my foster parent’s homes. I asked, “Who is this lady?”

“That,” my foster mom said, “is the great Stevie Nicks. She’s a singer. One of the best to ever live,” she said.

I replied, barely audible, “Oh. Maybe she’s my mom.” As far as I could tell, she was as close a person had ever come to looking like her. The day she left me in the park, she wore a long flowing white dress, with a lace duster. Most of the time even still, even though I know now what she looks like, I still picture her blond, tangly curls and her white flowy clothes, as she left, instead of her face. Since that’s the last thing I saw, I guess the trauma of it all has kept that memory burned into my consciousness.

When my mom told me we were going to the park, I could not have been more excited. As always, I lived for the adventures we went on, especially after we were homeless. I mean, I didn’t know we were homeless. I just loved camping. We slept in the canyons and near the beach, moving when necessary. I loved sleeping in the campgrounds in Orange County – with their oak trees and sycamores. Their branches created cool shapes in the soft orange glow of the campground lights. When we had to leave a campground, we would sleep near the rich people beaches and then find our way back to another campsite. The day I bought my house in the hills above Laguna, just blocks from the park bench where she abandoned me, I thought I’d finally arrived. Maybe I did? The problem was, I didn’t have any real sense of victory though I’d hoped and prayed it would feel that way.

When we left Trabuco Canyon, we were in Dwayne’s car. He was her boyfriend. At least one that had been around for a little longer than the others. There were lots of them. I’d never forgotten his first name – though my trauma prevented me from even remembering my mom’s full name. Dwayne drove us down the winding canyon roads to Laguna, with the windows down and classic rock blaring. When we sat down on the bench, I had a small bag with me. I called it my purse. She said, as she got up, “You hold that purse tight and don’t let go, okay?” That wouldn’t be a problem because I carried it with me everywhere I went. I was eventually picked up by the police and taken to the social services agency in the city of Orange, I didn’t know what they’d found in there. They kept it with my file until I was old enough to really talk with my caseworkers. What they’d found didn’t help me understand. It didn’t help me grasp why she’d left me there. I didn’t know my story. I didn’t know from her scribbled and cryptic words, why. I didn’t know who she was or where she came from. What I knew for sure? She may not have ever been in her right mind. Her words were jumbled nonsense. I know her first name, Willow. But beyond that and her tangled mess of curls and flowing dress, I don’t know her story – or mine.

In the letter, she wrote, in one long run-on sentence, the sea is carrying me away i tried to stay above the surface for her but the current is carrying me away she needs you more than she needs me. And then, here she is my mermaid child I have to return now. Who knows what in the actual hell she meant. She scribbled numbers on the back of the note. I always dreamed as a pre-teen, once they’d handed over her letter to me – as if it wasn’t mine in the first place, that maybe I’d find some meaning in the numbers. But all these years later, based on everything else I’ve uncovered in the intervening years, there’s no meaning to them. There is one other thing she wrote on the back of the note, I’m still certain it is a piece of the puzzle that will make sense someday. She wrote one word, and then underlined it many times, creating creases in the paper. The creases made reading her note on the front side, harder. The word? Jade. Now that I’m here, in the place that birthed both of us, I hope to understand.

As for the other thing I was left with – my necklace – it’s a small piece of turquoise sea glass – with a small mother of pearl dangling alongside it. I’ve lived in some rough places over the years. But I hung on to that necklace like it was a part of my own body – like one of my arms or legs. When I was 12, I got kicked out of a foster home for beating up my foster sister. She’d tried to take the necklace from me. It didn’t matter to my foster parents. They didn’t care that it was all I had of her. They sent me back to social services like I was a shirt you’d return because it doesn’t fit. I don’t wear the necklace much anymore. But it’s always with me. It will never not be with me.

As I got dressed for Joe’s, I thought long and hard about the necklace. I stared at myself in my full length mirror. My brown hair is piled on my head with curly wisps of unruly locks falling all around my face, emboldened to be wilder than usual, in the humidity of a Carolina summer. The easy choice would be to slip it into my purse, where I usually kept it – when it didn’t fit the moment. But today felt dangerous, in an entirely enticing way. I have an entire family in this beach side town. And not a damn one of them tried to find me. Chew on that for a minute. The scrappy twelve year old in me, that beat up the sweet church kid when she tried to steal her necklace, is the one that raised an eyebrow, grabbed that necklace off the dresser, and put it on. I knew, in that moment, there’d be no turning back.

#

Joe’s was quite the scene. Situated at the end of the boardwalk, it sat in a mostly residential part of the town which explains, in part, why it may not have been frequented by the tourists – who probably stuck to the section of town that was easy walking distance from the handful of hotels and Bed and Breakfasts that lined the strip along the boardwalk – all leading to the fishing pier. The pier, as I’d discovered on my first very long walk, jutted out into the Atlantic in, what I am certain is a taunting and enticing way, for the hurricane season. Yet, it still stands – defying Mother Nature in a way I can respect.

When I was two houses down from Joe’s, I stopped. The Beach Music floated up above the crashing waves. When I did my research about Seaside – which as an author is way more fun than writing – I learned a lot about the Beach Music culture of the Carolinas. When you grow up in the coarse sand of Newport and Huntington Beach, in the 80s and 90s, beach music is U2, Jesus Jones, and Depeche Mode. Or basically anything that’s playing on “The World Famous KROQ.” When I finally traced my origins back to the strip of barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, I learned everything I could, including how drastically different beach culture here can be from the only home I’d ever known. Beach music, as I’d soon learn, was deeply rooted in R&B. This blew my mind. As the music wafted up into the air, along with the intoxicating scent of what I imagine is mouth watering local seafood, I needed a second to gather myself.

Before I open my eyes, Tally’s voice reaches me. In spite of her loud appearance, her voice and deep Carolina drawl are about as soothing as a voice can be – as if she speaks in songs and poetry. I adore it – but promise myself not to let her know she’s my new best friend. “There you are! I started to worry you’d changed your mind,” she said, as she rushes to my side, looping her arm through mine. Like the day I’d met her in person for the first time, she is wearing bright, almost fluorescent colors and jewelry that might as well have been bigger than her head. She is a tiny little thing. Which I suppose makes her presence, bright clothing, and huge jewelry, particularly charming. Or jarring. One of those. “You look divine,” she says. “You could charm the dew right off the honeysuckle.” I stifle my laugh until she says, “Don’t try to pretend you didn’t just mentally write that in your little author notebook. I know that’ll show up someday in a novel. I’m downright full of this bullshit. I’ll warn you before I throw one out that I really want you to remember though,” she says, as she steers me to Joe’s, as if I have no say in the matter.

She pulls me along until we reach what might as well be her throne high atop the Tally Court – a rickety outdoor couch – surrounded by a group of her courtiers. She introduces me, as she motions for me to have a seat with a sway of her arm, “This – this my friends – is a true celebrity right here. This is Allison Whiting! Can you believe it? In Seaside!” I don’t even bother stifling a laugh this time. Tally pats my hand, like I’m a pet. “Just ignore her, she doesn’t quite understand who she is,” she says. Truer words have never been uttered about me.

A chorus of welcomes and nice to meet yous, meet me as I smile my best fake smile. It’s the one I use when I sign books for hours on end and when the talk shows act interested in my latest book – even though they really don’t care a wit about a single thing I write. “Thank you for the warm welcome. So what should I order? Tell me all the things about the food and drinks,” I say, hoping to quickly distract from the embarrassing introduction.

“Easy,” a man, with a bushy grey beard and the reddest cheeks I’ve ever seen, says, “Shrimp burger. Get the shrimp burger. It’s an Eastern Carolina tradition,” he says, to the agreement of the rest of the crew.

“Well shrimp burger it is,” I say.

Tally whispers in my ear, “They don’t come to us. You have to go to the bar to order. They don’t take cards, by the way. Cash only.”

“Well that’s quaint,” I say.

“I’ll try not to be insulted by that,” Tally says, winking. “Go get you some food and an adult beverage and come on back. By the way, as soon as I find your neighbors, I’ll make the intro.”

“Thanks,” I say, with a thumbs up, as the heat rises in my face. If there were more lights on around here, I’d probably be red as a beet. Honestly, I might as well be on fire, as the anxiety takes over. I walk across the bar, packed with people, keeping an eye out for my grandparents as I go. I’m certain I’ll know them when I see them. The first photo I’d found of them on the Internet, from a local charity event, is old – twenty years, at least. But I have another, from the Seaside fishing tournament, maybe ten years after that. That one gets me a little closer to what they probably look like now. I’ve studied both photos for hours upon hours, hoping to find myself in them and preparing for the day I show up on their doorstep.

When I finally get through the wait at the bar, I sit at a newly opened barstool and wait for the bartender to maker her way to me. I take in the place, watching everyone. If there was a job description for writers – people-watching would be a requirement. I’m instantly overwhelmed at the thought that people in this room could be related to me.

When I turned 16, my last set of foster parents, adopted me. The Russell family will always have my deepest gratitude. I love them dearly. Mama Russell – what I still call her to do this day – never tried for one second to convince me to give up my dreams of finding my family. Nor did she make me try to fit into theirs – as if I’d somehow forget I likely had an entire family out there somewhere. She seemed to understand this need in me. She never pressured me. I will always love her, even though I’ve never been able to call her, “Mom,” as I’m sure she’s always wished. I expect, if I should ever get free from the trauma that is my childhood and marry – it will be Bo Russell that walks me down the aisle – with Mama Russell there in the front row. They were good to me. They are the best kind of people God makes, if God exists, that is.

Perhaps unfortunately, blood and the ties that bind us, are stronger. My foster care agency used to say that family is more than blood. It is. It truly is. But maybe only those who are left alone in the world, without clear ties to their past, understand how desperately we long for connection to those who share our DNA. In the midst of my introspection, in this noisy bar, someone taps me on the shoulder. I look to my right, in the direction of the tap. The guy next to me is pointing toward the bartender – who I now realize is standing in front of me, staring at me like I’ve got two heads.

Who knows how long she’s stood there. Her hair is bright purple and her arms are covered with tattoos. She’s wearing the shortest skirt I have ever seen and her shirt is cut way too low. She’s not subtle. I notice in a flash, as I size her up, that she has a scar on her wrist and what looks like a burn mark just above it. “I’m sorry,” I say.

“Well what do you want?” she asks, apparently annoyed.

“I’ll take a shrimp burger and bourbon on the rocks,” I say.

“What side, hon?”

“Oh. I don’t know. What do you have?” I ask, what I think is a seemingly innocent question.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No, dude,” I say. “What was your first guess?” I ask, my famous attitude making its first appearance, since I arrived in North Carolina.

She raises her right eyebrow. From the looks of her, I’d guess her and I could go a couple of rounds out back. She’s probably fought off some meth heads and abusive boyfriends in her day. In other words, she’s just like me – but you can’t see my tats or scars. “I like you,” she says. “We’ve got slaw, fries, or our world famous mac and cheese. We’ve got a partial menu at night in the summer. Makes things easier on Joe. What can I get you?”

“I’ll take the mac and cheese,” I say.

“Good call. Can I get your name for your order?”

“Sure. It’s Ellison. Ellison Whiting.”

She stops mid-reach, before taking the twenty-dollar bill I’ve handed her. “Ellison, eh?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting. We have a bunch of Ellisons down here. They’re everywhere. Kind of like sand fleas. Sadly, my mama is an Ellison.”

“I’m from Orange County, California,” I say. She raises that eyebrow at me again. She’s skeptical. I like her.

“Well wherever the hell you’re from, welcome. I’ll have your drink in a minute and someone will bring your food to your table. I saw you come in with Tally.”

“Thanks,” I say. I fully notice as I do, the gentlemen next to me, though he’s picking at the label on his beer bottle, he’s been watching me the whole time. From my peripheral vision, he smiles. He’s been following my every move. I turn to face him. “Appreciate the tap,” I say. I was just remembering all of the things I need at the grocery store,” I say – hand out stretched. He takes my hand.

“Ryan,” he says, extending his hand out to meet mine. “California, eh? What are you doing out here?”

I don’t detect even the slightest of accents – which I’ve so far heard from most everyone I’ve met the last few days. “Nice to meet you, Ryan. And, yep -California. Most recently Napa. But I spent most of my life in Southern California.”

“I lived there for big chunks of my life. San Diego. Great town.”

“It is. Friendly city – compared to the rest of SoCal anyway. What were you doing out there?”

“Marine Corps and Navy. Navy parents – Marines for me. Spent my enlistment at Pendleton.”

“Gotcha. Are you originally from Seaside? Or close by?” I ask, taking a second to study his weathered face. His trucker’s ball cap sits over a mess of unruly blond hair. It’s long enough that you’d never guess he’s ex-military. I bet you one thousand actual bucks that he surfs and has a half-pipe in his backyard.

“I’m from a little of everywhere,” he says, looking back to his bottle and peeling at it a little more. “Like I said. I was a military brat. We lived all over. But my most formative years were California and Hawaii. Hawaii will probably always be home.”

“Nice. Not a bad place to be from,” I say.

“True story. I’ve called Seaside my permanent home for the last ten years or so, though.”

“Do you like it here?”

“I do. I own a little place up the boardwalk. Plus, I can surf, hike the mountains within a five-hour drive, fish, or backpack in the middle of nowhere here on the coastal plain. It’s an outdoor man’s paradise, if you ask me. Plus, they don’t care if you put up a – gone fishing or surfing sign – on your door.”

“Sounds like my kind of place.”

“What brings you to our little perfect slice of the Southern Outer Banks?” He turns to face me. He smiles for the first time – deep dimples instantly make him endearing. His eyes are deep brown. I’m suddenly reminded of how much I love a man with brown eyes.

“Research,” I say, trying to sound mysterious, but realizing after I say it, I just sound lame.

“What kind of research?” he asks.

“Book research,” pleasantly surprised that he’s the second person tonight that doesn’t know who I am.

“You’re a writer?”

“I am. I write fiction. I have a book to write – so here I am.”

“If there’s anything I can help you with, let me know. I own the inn on the opposite end of the strip. I’m right on the water. You can’t miss us. I run a small diner from the ground floor. It’s a good place to write – with views of the shoals and the wild horses. Stop by sometime. I’ll save you a table. When you write the great American novel, I’ll put a placard with your name on it,” he says. I find the fact that he has no idea who I am, endearing. He continues, “Like I said, let me know if I can help with anything,” he says, as the bartender slides my drink down the bar – from the opposite end. She’s a cheeky thing. I reach out and catch it before it collides with the Old Fashioned my bar-neighbor is nursing.

“Good catch, babe,” she says.

“Well thanks. What was your name by the way?”

“Jade,” she says. “Jade Willis.” I choke as a I take a sip.

 “You alright?” she asks.

“Yep. I’m just terribly awkward. Beautiful drink,” I say to her. Though just a bourbon on the rocks, she’s twisted a candied orange peel and if my nose doesn’t betray me, I’m guessing she rimmed the glass with orange, too.

“Thanks. Enjoy. We’ll have the shrimp burger out to you in just a bit,” she says, quickly turning her attention to another customer.

“Well, Ryan – I should probably return to Tally and her buddies or I will never live it down. Thank you for the offer about writing at your place. I just might do that – especially if you have some good local atmosphere for me to soak in.”

“Oh that we do. It was nice to meet you, Ellison.” he says as I stand to my feet. I stumble a little – as if I had more than a few drinks. It’s not the first sip of my drink. It’s the realization that I’ve just met a woman named Jade, in a little bar, in my hometown – a place I’ve never known or seen before. Ryan reaches out to steady me.

“You okay?” he asks.

“I’m good. Thanks. I just got up too fast,” I say. “Thanks again,” I say, as I quickly make my way out of the packed bar, toward Tally. I’ve opened the door now. I can’t turn back. Either I’m leaving this place with answers or I’ll die trying.

Purchase print, here.

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Just Around the Bend

robert frost, the best way out is always through, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

When I woke up from a nap yesterday evening, the world looked a little different. I’ve been closer and closer to that moment for a while now. I woke up this morning and that sense had settled in even deeper – though I’d had a weird {weird-bad, not weird-entertaining} dream that could have been unsettling. In the place of some of the hard stuff that I’ve walked through the last couple of years, is a quiet peace.

Perseverance is something that many of us probably feel we’re well acquainted with. I have often been told that I’m strong. But being told that got old a long time ago. I don’t particularly care for being strong. I have a similar relationship with the word perseverance. Obviously, you don’t learn to persevere or persevere well, unless you face your fair share of challenging circumstances.

Life isn’t ever going to be free of challenges, conflict, or pain. It ebbs and flows, right? So while I can’t really call this an end, it certainly feels like rounding a corner to see the most beautiful sunrise or sunset you’ve ever seen. I live near-ish to the coast. We have high rise bridges that take you over the Intracoastal Waterway. As you reach the top, the Atlantic Ocean comes in sight. It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, my heart always catches in my throat. That’s a little of how I feel right now.

Here’s the truth about God, healing, hope, and working your way through hard things or difficult circumstances – sometimes it’s the littlest things you need to admit, confess, forgive, fully feel, or maybe even say out loud – that help you round that corner. If I can encourage anyone who comes across this, to keep pressing forward, I wanted to share. Life is weird and wonderful and I know when stuff is a mess, it’s hard to imagine it being any other way.

The thing is, your moment of clarity, peace, forgiveness, or healing – is just around the bend. Keep moving forward.

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Eucharisteo

Eucharisteo, one thousand gifts, ann voskamp, elaina avalos,

If I told you what last night and today have been like, it wouldn’t be useful. I’ve cried many tears today and I’ve prayed with words I don’t have. Here’s the truth I had to dig for – but found- this evening, on a day when nothing makes sense and I’m worn out. Eucharisteo. In Greek, this word means, to thank, give thanks, or to be made a matter of thankfulness.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus broke bread with His disciples and thanked God the Father for the bread – which would come to symbolize his own body – broken (Luke 22:19). The word used in the Greek was eucharisteo. As He moved steadily toward his purpose – painful though it would be, and though He knew one in the room would betray Him, He thanked God for the bread. There at the so called “Last Supper,” when He knew death and suffering awaited Him – He thanked God for the bread.

It has taken me a while today to wrap my brain around where my head needs to be right now. I already knew, deep in my heart, it was eucharisteo, though. I prefer to operate from a place of joy and gratitude. It’s the sweet spot where I feel most in tune with my purpose. But sometimes I lose sight and I get bogged down in the stuff that happens (or doesn’t happen) around me. It’s easier, most certainly, to see what is and is not happening around you.

Joy is a habit: wear it.

~ Ann Voskamp

The thing is, thinking on the negativity begets more negativity. I know this to be true. So…thinking on what is true, right, good, and pure and being grateful and thankful would do the opposite, no? In the moment, though we may be in the midst of or walking into difficult circumstances, this thankfulness is absolutely where our hearts need to focus.

I got out of the habit of naming “one thousand gifts” as a practice. I started doing that after reading Ann Voskamp‘s book by the same title. I’ve said I should get back to it – I even start. But it’s in fits and stops as the hard days settle in. Today, I was ready to give up – call it quits. Donesky. I was done. I want a different story. He isn’t budging. At least not yet. And in the despair of unchanged circumstances, I grasped on things that are fleeting, that steal time & joy and which will never lead to a peaceful mind or spirit.

What will? Eucharisteo. I pulled out my extra journal and forced myself to write down a few of the moments in recent days and weeks that have given me joy, caused me to take a deep breath at the beauty, or that I got a real kick out of. I’ll take it in my purse to work every day until it is habit again. I’ll keep it there as a reminder. I’ll write Eucharisteo on my monitor at work – which I stare at all day – if I have to.

We’ve long heard the phase, “You are what you eat.” I think we are what we think. So when it doesn’t make sense and I can’t see what lies ahead, I’m focusing on what’s good. I will thank Him for every little thing I see – that reminds me of His grace & beauty. I will see the grace in the million little things around me, that are His calling card – reminders of His goodness when the weight of the world settles in and answers are few and far between.

Eucharisteo.

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Twist in the Wind

I woke up today
Your name on my lips. Your
Eyes I miss.
Thinking of the last time
I saw you. I lived on those
Minutes far longer than
I care to admit.
I don’t hold it against you
I once replied.
I don’t hold anything
Against you then or now.
Except the silence
Hurts. I struggle to let go.
This is a gift.
I am proud of.
This determination makes me
Unable to give up
When it counts. But I twist
In the wind now.

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Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

Dr. Rick Hanson, Being Well, Wellness, Elaina Avalos, Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

If you’re pursuing wellness, particularly wellness as it pertains to your mental health, this is a great podcast to check out. While I don’t agree with everything I hear on the podcast (some doesn’t fit certain areas of my faith), I have found that much of what Dr. Hanson (and his son Forrest) discuss on the podcast, is immensely helpful. What I think is most helpful is what I have come to see as Dr. Hanson’s emphasis on our ability to control and impact our well-being, thinking, and ultimately emotions. This is a great episode. Click HERE to check it out. This podcast is one of my favorite things.

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But Not Without My Muse

“Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die
I don’t belong, and my beloved, neither do you
Those Windermere peaks look like a perfect place to cry
I’m setting off, but not without my muse

I want auroras and sad prose
I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet
‘Cause I haven’t moved in years
And I want you right here
A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground
With no one around to tweet it
While I bathe in cliffside pools
With my calamitous love and insurmountable grief”
– Songwriters: Jack Antonoff / Taylor Alison Swift

The writing muse is finicky. My current lifestyle makes him/her/it hide a little more than I prefer. I’m ready for change. “I’m setting off, but not without my muse.”

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A Thousand Years

a thousand years, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

Last summer, bits and pieces of a novel started floating around in my head. That’s often how it starts. A song, a flash of an image, a smell, a memory of the ocean, or camping in the Redwoods – whatever. Sometimes it’s a phrase that comes to me and then before I know it, a story forms.

It can (and often has) taken years for some of these to form. I have a file folder on my laptop with several different novels. I’ve mentioned this before. Because I can’t write them all at once, I write as much as I can – when an idea comes to me. I store it up, so to speak – for a time when I can finish writing the thing.

I’m a “seat of the pants” writer and don’t care much for outlining every little bit of a book. It’s in my head. But as a writer who writes character-driven novels, the plot is secondary to the development of the characters themselves. And so I find that the overall outline in my head is enough.

But I digress. In October I started writing A Thousand Years. And then in November, I wrote the bulk of the 50,000 word novel. It was complete – but not. As I began to edit it, I found some pretty serious issues. But far more importantly, the book just wasn’t coming together in the way that I expected it to. Something was missing.

I’ve had a really hard time letting go of it, however. Though I did consider throwing the baby out with the bath water. I started working on another novel to see if it would catch fire and I could set this novel aside. It just did not. A Thousand Years was still it. This novel is one that’s truly on my heart to write. I’ve prayed some quick, but desperate prayers to God – show me how to make this work – I asked over and over. Well, I think He has. And I am grateful.

I’ve yet to write a summary about this novel – but I’ve shared bits and pieces here, including some of the poetry or short fiction that’s found here. Any post with a tag of “A Thousand Years” fits somewhere into this novel on my heart. While many of the scenes I’ve shared here in the past, are now being altered to fit my re-write – the heart of the novel is the same.

And what’s the heart of the novel? It’s about the messy and complicated way our lives don’t follow a linear trajectory. In the midst of the mess – finding love, family, and healing is possible. One of my favorite gemstones is an opal. Opals are beautiful because of the cracks and fissures in their surface. The messy & complicated in life could certainly mar our lives if we allow it to. Or it could actually be what makes us the best version of ourselves.

I am excited to finish this draft and see what comes next for A Thousand Years.



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Coffee In Bed

When I was a little girl, my Grandpa Avalos doted on my Grandma. It hadn’t always been that way. He’d admitted to many mistakes in the type of husband & father he was when he was younger. At some point in his life, he made many changes. His faith became his foundation. He made up for lost time. He was so sweet to her. Even though he still had his Mexican way of being rough – he was a man that loved God, his church, and his wife and family.

While he did things for her before he retired, after he retired – every weekend, he went to mass on Saturday and Sunday – early – long before anyone was awake. Ever the social butterfly, he’d talk to friends after mass and then go to McDonald’s. Why? Because my Grandma had a thing for McDonald’s pancakes and coffee. He would bring in the food as we were waking. He’d get out her coffee, doctor it just right, get her food (pancakes with butter – no syrup), and the Orange County Register, and take it to her. Only after she was situated, did he get us up and settled with breakfast (when we were little and needed more help). She always came first.

She was a night owl. I take after her in that and in many other ways. She didn’t like getting up early. But she really milked it (as she should have – haha) after Grandpa retired. He did this, without fail – over and over and over again. It was decades of his life that he kept this tradition. It’s not the only sweet thing he did for her. He did other things – chocolates and flowers and trips to her favorite places (like Borrego Springs in the desert). He would cut gardenias (and sometimes roses) from their garden and make tiny bouquets for me. He was a special man.

I’ve known love. I have loved. But I’ve never quite found the man who would bring me my form of coffee in bed. I guessed those relationships lacked in many ways – including maturity. It doesn’t matter anymore. I do know that I will always hope this is possible, even if I end up alone. Every woman has her things. We all have our love languages. For me, as a words person, words of affirmation are my numero uno. A letter – a note that I find before my day begins – are a gift that would follow me all day. These, like thoughtful things my grandpa did for my grandma, are little gifts that fill you up – giving you confidence in your love as you also seek to love him in the way he best receives and understands love.

I was thinking about my grandparents recently while I re-read my novel, A Thousand Years. Though very different than my grandparents, there are personality traits of Birdie’s grandparents that are similar to mine. My grandma could be a real stinker. And even though she worried and stressed and did crazy things*, he adored her. And she knew it. Everyone knew it. What a gift it was to witness this as a child.

I may still end up alone. Who really knows what the future holds? But I do know that because of men like my grandpa and a couple other special people to come across my path, I know what I’m looking for. And if I’m so blessed to have this man show up on my doorstep, I can’t wait to spoil him. But no matter what lies ahead, I treasure the gift that seeing this kind of love, in my grandparents, was to me.

*like flipping off her grandchildren when we pissed her off & teaching us how to cuss without our parent/aunt knowing we were cussing (our own words).

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If you’re the one she lets in…

“Kiss her with passion
As much as you can
Run your hands through her hair
Whenever she’s sad
And when she doesn’t notice
How pretty she is
Tell her over and over
So she never forgets

Take it
If she gives you her heart
Don’t you break it
Let your arms be a place
She feels safe in
She’s the best thing that you’ll ever have”

Written by: Meghan Trainor / Steven Solomon / Forest Blakk

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I’ve Never Been More Homesick Than Now

“I’ve never been more homesick than now

Help me Lord cause I don’t understand your ways…”

Homesick by MercyMe
Photo by U.S. Central Command Public Affairs

This has been a rough few weeks in my world – for people I care about and for me as I struggle to wrap my brain around this world we live in. This has become a sunset at North Topsail Beach, kind of Saturday evening. I desperately need it.

As the world situation has grown worse and as those who would torture women, girls, Christians, and anyone else that lives & fights for freedom – have begun to run rampant again, it hurts. It’s painful in a way that’s hard to explain. For those in my world who have known firsthand what it was like there, for those who died there or left parts of their youth and peace of mind there, to the incredible man that died there – that changed the course of my life in many ways, to the families who lived through constant deployments and worry and stress – I hurt for them – for us. I know it wasn’t in vain. But it feels like it was sometimes. And now, the worst pain imaginable has come to the doorstep of 13 more families. The worst part, although there are numerous awful things about this moment in history, is that they were there on a humanitarian mission. They stood at the “ECCs” trying to protect and control access so our citizens and those who supported us all these years, could get out. They had an impossible mission there – the sea of humanity fleeing such evil is too much. My god when I think of those men and women and children trying to get out, it makes me so sick at the evil in the world. These 13 were among those that escorted refugees onto C-17s, held babies, and cut up cardboard for children who stood shoeless on the hot ground. This evil that refugees and our citizens were fleeing, this evil that took the life of 13 more of our people, is the evil that motivated me to support the people around me in the only way I knew how, for all these years. Suddenly I question how I could leave, though it has been my goal for the last couple of years.

This is one of those times when nothing makes sense. The evil in the world is too much sometimes. It’s too much. I went to a Christian University. I took Bible classes. I grew up in church (we were there every time the doors were open practically). I know my Theology. I know Truth. I love Jesus. He’s my kind of radical. But, I don’t understand God in any way. I never will. I never will.

“I’ve never been more homesick than now.” So this evening, I will go seek solace in the vastness of the ocean and in listening to the constancy of the waves as they reach the shoreline – over and over again. The waves and the vastness of the Atlantic will remind me that I love (though I don’t understand) an unfathomable God.

The last couple of days have been an important reminder to not waste time or let stupid, meaningless shit get in the way of your relationships.

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12 (NLT)

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Ready to Find Out – More from A Thousand Years

winery, wine, Jim Harris Photography

Here’s a little diddy from A Thousand Years. . .

I didn’t ask the hot football player out. And he didn’t ask me out either. I was a little confused. But then again, I’m not exactly batting a thousand in the dating department, so I chalked it up to harmless flirtation. And then, a few weeks after our opening, on another Saturday we were open to the public, Nolan returned. I was about to give a tour of the winery when he showed up, looking hot as hot as he had the day of the opening. As sometimes happens, in the chaos that is a family run business and being a single parent, Jackson ended up with me in spite of the fact that I was working. Nolan jogged over to my tour, after my Granddad pointed him in my direction. I smiled, because I couldn’t help myself. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I blushed too. He is quite the sight. All 6’4 of him. He is so very different than Gray. Gray is lean and average in height. He is fair-skinned, with the prettiest blue eyes I have ever seen. Nolan has dark brown hair and the deeply brown, warm eyes. He’s also got a pretty magnificent beard. And though I couldn’t tell the night we met, today – his white collared, long sleeved shirt sleeves are rolled up, exposing an arm full of tattoos on both arms.

“You got room for one more?” he asked.

“If you’re willing to babysit,” I say, mostly joking.

“Sure thing,” he says, making his way toward me from the edge of the crowd. He puts his hands out to Jackson and without hesitation, Jackson goes to Nolan excitedly. I’m a little jealous actually.
Throughout the tour, Nolan and Jackson stay close. I’m not going to lie – watching my son with a man – someone other than family or the men on the ranch – who I’ve known my whole life – is an experience I didn’t know I’d need to prepare myself for. I’m oddly emotional. I stuff the feelings and we finish the tour in the tasting room where I ask one of our tasting room staff to take over.

“Do you want to join the tasting?” I ask Nolan.

“No. I came to see you. I wandered off the night we met and lost you in the crowd somewhere around the time the fireworks started. I had every intention of asking you out to dinner. I’ve had some work obligations the last couple of weeks so this is the first I could get back.”

“Well thanks for hanging out with the kid again. I was totally kidding when I said that, by the way.”

“No you weren’t.”

“I wasn’t?” I ask.

“No. I think you were testing me.”

“Is that right? Why would I be testing you?”

“To see if I’m an asshole athlete or if I’m as nice of a guy as you want to believe. And the answer is yes to both. I also know you want to have dinner with me. So, how about it? Will you have dinner with me? This Saturday?”

“I will. If I can find a babysitter.”

Nolan laughs. He’s a cocky one that’s for sure. “You have babysitters crawling this place. And a nanny. So shall I pick you up at 6?”

“That sounds like a plan,” I say, smiling. “I can’t be out too late, you know? I hope you don’t take it personally if I turn into a pumpkin, early.”

“I understand. I mean, not exactly. I don’t have any kids. But I get the gist. I’ll have you home at a reasonable hour, I promise. How does Deetjen’s sound?”

“Perfect,” I say. “Thank you for coming by and babysitting for a few minutes.” I put my hands out to Jackson – who never turns down an opportunity to be held by his mama. Except he turns away, by turning into Nolan, putting his arms around his neck. But then, as if it’s a joke, he giggles. “Jackson Ford, you brat. It’s time for a nap, Bubba. Come on.” Jackson giggles again and then Nolan tickles him. Pretty soon, Jackson is in fits of laughter as Nolan teases him and pretends over and over that he’s dropping him.

Becky, Jackson’s nanny, breaks the spell. She’s just arrived for the day and as I’ve asked her to do, she takes charge without asking for direction. “Hey kiddo. It’s time for your nap!” Becky, one of Jackson’s favorite people in all of the world, is enough to break up the laugh fest.

“Looks like the boss is here, Bud. You have a good nap, okay?” he says to Jackson.
Becky reaches for Jackson and whispers, “Say bye-bye.”
Jackson, my sweet boy, who babbles a lot, but rarely speaks clearly, says, “Bye-bye!” It’s as clear as day.

“Always full of surprises,” I say, kissing him on his cheek. “Bye, bye baby,” I say.

“Bye-Bye, ma-ma!” he says waving. The tears well up in my eyes and spill down my cheeks. This kid. I blow him a kiss as they walk off toward Becky’s car. Sometimes the littlest things take my breath away. I can’t believe he’s mine.

Before I can wipe my tears or figure out what to say, Nolan reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief. Such an old-fashioned gesture, from such a tough looking guy.

“Here,” he says. He doesn’t take his eyes off me. He reaches out and puts his huge hand on my arm. He squeezes my arm a little. “I’ll see you Saturday evening.”

“See you, Saturday,” I say, smiling. I clearly don’t know where this is going, but for the first time since Gray walked out on the life we were building, I’m ready to find out.

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Now I’m Intrigued – A Scene from A Thousand Years

There’s been a great deal going on these days. My writing has been fairly non-existent (which actually infuriates me). But I hope in the next couple of weeks, I can get back to where I was. Here is “Now I’m Intrigued” a scene from my novel A Thousand Years. You can read other excerpts, here.

***

2004

The funny thing about life is that you usually can’t imagine that healing is ahead when you’re in the thick of the pain. In the grief – in the anger and hurt of lost love and unplanned single parenthood – you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how good things might be someday. But you do wake up one day and life looks different – different, better. It has been a slow burn – truth be told. I’m happy now. I am content with life as it is. That’s something that may even be better than happiness. Today is our grand opening at Tierra de Dios. I woke with the sun – I’m sure we all did. I’ve been in the barn ever since, prepping tables with center pieces and making sure everything looks exactly like I planned. In the year we’ve prepped and planned for this, I found some purpose and meaning beyond being a mom. It’s not that it’s not okay to find purpose and meaning as a mom – I just needed something more to keep my mind busy. And opening Tierra de Dios has been what I needed. My grandparents caught my vision – between my research, sketches, and the time I’d invested in a business plan – they haven’t once questioned my choices here. They’ve given me this project to run with. They gave me a budget. They gave me some constraints. But for the most part, this has been my baby. They’ve followed me wholeheartedly. It is a good feeling. Racing through final finishing touches, I check the time again – I’ve got an hour to drive back to the house and get ready. Dammit. Why am I like this? I can’t be on time to save my life. I should have been getting ready an hour ago. Though the winery is on my grandparent’s ranch, it takes about twenty minutes to get back to the house – which means I have twenty minutes to look like I’m opening a world-class winery and event venue. Note to self – use the bridal room bathroom to get ready on event days. I have been late all of my life. Being late is how I met Gray Ford. I sometimes still don’t know how to be thankful for that day, without the hurt that follows. I’m thankful because it gave me Jackson Ford Langston. If only all that other stuff had never happened.

The thing about being the only Mexican owned winery on the privileged central coast of California, is that it gets you a lot of attention. The kind that has folks waiting in line for your gates to open, reporters from all over the state swarming, and handfuls of celebrities and athletes – waiting on your grand opening day. Our friends in the community are here too. This is the place to be today. Our opening has been the talk of the coast. The acreage that we own here is some of the prettiest along this rugged Big Sur coastline.

Our barn, on a hill overlooking the Pacific, is in a sweet meadow that gives unobstructed views of the ocean. This land, with its freshwater streams, creeks, and ponds is an emerald green shining beauty. Along the south side of the barn, redwoods and Monterey cypress reach and bend toward the coast. On the north side of the barn, a huge California live oak provides shade and a perfect ceremony spot for outdoor weddings. Stretching further to the north are yucca, sagebrush, native wildflowers, shrubs, and even some cacti. It’s all of California’s beauty in one sweet spot. If you follow a short trail behind the barn, some of our newly planted vineyards stretch up over the hill toward the rest of ours vines, that have been growing on this land since the 70s.

This is a stunning piece of land. And I am beyond joyful that we get to share it now. Driving around back access roads, normally used when we’re moving cattle from one pasture to another, I skirt around the waiting line of cars and park in our staff parking area, out of sight from the barn. My mom has given me crap for so long about my tardiness. I do wish I could change it – but even when I have the best of intentions, I still end up running at the last minute. Which is what I do – I run toward the barn where the rest of the family, and my boy are waiting.

***

Vineyard, winery, elaina avamlos

I pride myself on my ability to create a beautiful party. It sounds so trivial when there are so many other things in the world that cry for our attention. As an artist, I feel deeply. I feel other’s pain. There’s injustice all around us. Sometimes I think I can’t make a dent in the world by throwing parties and creating this place of tranquility and beauty in the midst the chaos of the world. But like art, sometimes it’s the beauty that becomes the foundation for lasting change. There’s an overwhelming amount of ugly in our world. Creating time and space for the small joys of good food, good wine, sweet memories with friends, and family – is no small thing. And that’s what we’ve started here. I have shaken more hands, hugged more people than seems normal, and have loved every second of this wild and crazy day so far. The music, the breeze blowing off the water, and the wine and food, are creating this sweet spot of joy in my heart I didn’t know I needed.

It has been hours since our gates opened and between the music, food, and wine – the party is still going strong. My sweet new nanny has patiently hung out – chasing my boy all over – for hours. But I know it’s time for her to take him home. The last time I looked, she’d found a table and contained him long enough to feed him. His busybody ways are nearly impossible to control when people are around. I look back at the table and realize they’ve moved on. I search around through the crowd to see if I can find them. I don’t see them in any of the usual spots. I turn – my eyes searching everywhere. A brief moment of unexplained panic rises up – as if he’s in danger here on land he already knows so well.

When I finally find him, he’s having an in depth conversation with a man I don’t know. Becky, our nanny, is standing with them. Jackson is standing on the stranger’s lap, talking a mile a minute, as if he knows how to talk, and is best friends with a man I can barely see. This kid. I head their way quickly to relieve the patient stranger. “Jackson Langston Ford, you silly boy,” I say, mid-babble, Jackson turns to face me. His smile widens, as if that’s possible. Joy personified this kid. “It’s time for you to take a nap and let this nice dude here, enjoy his Saturday.”

I take a step closer and realize the man he’s suddenly become best friends with is Nolan Carter – a San Francisco 49ers Linebacker. I only know this because someone pointed him out to me a couple of hours ago, as if I’d know who he is. I don’t know sports. At all. Not even a little. So when he looked up at me from his chair, my kid as comfortable as if he’s known him all his days, I didn’t expect the smile or the genuine reaction. This burly professional football player, is clearly enjoying my kid. And people who like my kid are number 1, top of the heap – perfect, in my book.

“Oh he’s fine. I mean, a nap is a nap and I’d never want to interrupt that, but he’s not disturbing me at all. He walked right over here a few minutes ago and told me what was what. I have no idea what we’re discussing, but it is very important just the same, I will have you know.”

“I’m sure it is,” I say, smiling at this charming and very attractive man, playing with me kid. “He’s not known for discussing trivial matters with perfect strangers. Nonetheless, my little hooligan here needs a nap, or tonight and tomorrow will not be pleasant for me or the members of our household. Thank you for entertaining my boy, Mr. Carter,” I say, extending my hand to shake his, after I’ve taken my boy back – where he’s propped on my hip.

“You’re very welcome – Carolina, right?”

“Yes. Thank you for coming today. And again, thank you for being sweet to my kid.”

“It’s my pleasure,” he says, smiling. My stomach lurches. He is one fine looking man. I walk off with Becky and Jackson – giving her a few instructions for the rest of the evening. She has been sweet enough to agree to stay overnight as I expect a very late night. Though I’d initially been reticent about hiring someone to take care of Jackson, I know it’s the right call. She is the perfect person to understand our lifestyle and that we don’t always need her to be off somewhere with him. She is prepared to be part of the action with my boy, as often as possible. I love her already. When I return to the party, after sending them back to the house, I smile as the mariachis start playing. I decided on a unique take – I’ve hired an all-girl mariachi band from Southern California. The lead singer’s voice floats above the crowd, after the band plays its gentle guitar and trumpet based instrumental, opening. Everyone stops what they’re doing to listen to her beautiful voice. As a little girl, my Grandma would play these songs for me, long before I understood their words. The velvety voice of the lead singer, comforts me in an unexpected way, as the music floats up into the night sky. “Great party.” I instantly recognize Nolan Carter’s voice. I turn in his direction, still not 100% certain I’ve heard him correctly.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“I said, great party,” he says.

“Thank you. It has been a labor of love to get to this point. Thanks again for being sweet to my kid. He’s never met a stranger, that one.”

“I could tell. Cute kid.”

“He is, isn’t he? He doesn’t look a thing like me.”

“Your husband is fair-skinned with blue eyes?”

“No.”

“NO?”

“I mean, yes. I mean, no.” Nolan laughs. He has a deep, belly shaking kind of laugh. He’s a bear of a man. I guess that’s why he’s a linebacker. I feel ridiculous standing next to him – all 5’4 of me next to his 6’4-ish.

“Whatever, lady,” he says, winking at me.

“Ah. Got it. You didn’t have to answer, by the way.”

“Oh, it’s okay. I am so used to everyone around here knowing, that I’m rarely asked questions like that.”

“I was really just trying to figure out if you were single or not. I didn’t see a ring but you never know.”

I laugh, because I can’t help myself. I’m not sure how it’s possible that this terribly good looking man in front of me is flirting with me. I’m a single mother – with a toddler at that. “Yes, I’m single,” I say rolling my eyes. “Single parenthood is not usually high on the list of qualities most men are looking for, you know?”

“I’m not going to lie, I’ve been watching you for a while.”

“What does that mean?” I ask, suddenly a little weirded out.

“You’ve been making some waves in the city – with the winery and hiring Chef Silva.”

“Have I now?”

“Yeah. You pissed a lot of people off picking off the Chef from one of the hottest restaurants in town. I kept hearing your name come up and then a friend pointed you out to me at Mulligan’s a few months ago. I’ve been determined to meet you ever since.”

I laugh nervously. How is this even happening right now? “So you’re apparently into the food scene? Wine, too?”

“You could say that. I am hoping to end my football career soon and open a restaurant. I have an Associates from the CIA in St. Helena. They’ve been very patient with my weird lifestyle. I’m also a sommelier. My original degree was in Business Administration. I have big plans for rocking the boat when I retire. So yeah – anyone who shows up on the food and wine scene that rocks the boat, attracts my attention. Mostly because you came out of nowhere.”

“I do like to rock the boat. That is for certain.”

“I can tell. Today has been fantastic. And the food is incredible. You’ve got something really incredible here. The thing is, I think you’ve got way more in you than this. This is the start of a hospitality empire,” he says. Now I’m not certain if he’s attracted to me or he wants to go into business with me.

Either way, I’m intrigued.

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Meet Me Here

John Donne, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos, The Bait

Meet me here, when the days become long and the light turns golden.

Meet me here, when life is light and simple. And when the tempest rages. I want to face both – with you beside me.

Meet me here, when you need to break and can’t bear the world one more moment.

Meet me here – where I will keep you wild – as long as you keep me safe.

By: Elaina M. Avalos

Random musings on poetry: John Donne is a favorite poet, though a couple of my Lit professors found him tiresome and a chauvinist. I always thought their take a bit much. I think he was probably cheeky, sarcastic, and a poet familiar with the dark side of life (darkness in himself and others). He wrote one of my favorite sonnets of all time, about that very topic. But that’s another story.

One of my favorite Donne “conceits” is from “A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning” in which he compares his lover and himself as “twin” compasses (in this case a draftman’s compass). He writes that he must leave – but like the “fixed foot” of the compass, whatever circular route he takes, he will make his way back to her – his love – to “end” where he began.

“Come live with me…” I will always love “The Bait” for its way of twisting itself into many forms, depending on who reads it (to include Christian undertones). I read it as a description of the beauty and pleasures that this love brings the couple. Come live with me…

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Arms That Hold Me

it  looks like this, arms that hold me, elaina avalos, elaina m avalos, katie owens, one more cup of coffee
Photo by: flickr.com/photos/katieowens/8386886945.

A short story

Home isn’t always a place – sometimes it’s a person. I could live in hut, in the middle of Africa, or a shelter built of whatever we could find, in the poorest village in Baja – or in a leaky old farm house in Burgundy and I’d still be home. He is my home and always will be. Turning into our driveway, after a long week away, has become this perfect joy – the kind of joy that I didn’t know could be possible. I mean, I wanted it to be possible – I just didn’t experience it for most of my life. I travel for work – more often than I’d prefer. But it pays my half of the bills. During the weeks away, in spite of how busy my days keep me, I count down the moments until I return to this quiet haven we have created.

The day I met my husband was a horrible day. The worst – the kind of day that makes you want to crawl into bed and drink yourself into a stupor. At the end of the worst day, I’d had in years and years, I stepped off the escalator at my Metro stop and the sky unleashed with a holy furor – the likes I hadn’t seen in ages. There’d been no rain in the forecast, because of course not. Somehow, the worst summer thunderstorm I’d seen in ages, just happened to hit the moment I stepped onto the street. It soaked me to the bone. When I walked into the corner grocery store I shopped at every evening for my dinner, I am 1000% certain I looked like a drowned rat. But I shopped here every evening before walking to my Brownstone – and a little sloshing about, wasn’t about to stop me.

When my, now husband, reached down to help me up from the floor of that corner grocery store – now covered in pinot noir and soaking wet from the storm, I swatted his hand away. Eleven years later, I still haven’t lived that down. In what I now know is his endless patience and persistence, he put his hand out again. The second time I took it. My husband is a beast of a man. He is big and broad to my tiny frame. His hands practically swallowed mine. When I stood, the room spun around me a bit. I thought I might faint. “Hang in there with me, Miss,” he said, steadying me. “You’ve hit your head pretty hard. Let me call for an ambulance. That kid knocked you over pretty good.”

                “What happened?” I asked, the room still spinning.

                “Some jackwagon stole a bunch of beer and I guess the owner must’ve seen him on camera. He started hollering as I walked in and the kid ran through the store, and took you down as he went. I couldn’t get to you before you fell back. One of those,” he said, pointing to the wine on display at the end of the aisle, “hit you as you fell back. It was a double whammy – the floor and the wine, both conked you on the head.”

By the way, the wine is a display I personally installed a week ago. I’m a wine rep and sommelier. And after three years, I’d finally convinced Mr. Green to let me sell my wares here. “Ah. Of course,” I said. “Naturally it’s the pinot noir.”

                “What’s that?” he asked.

                “Never mind. And no – no ambulance. I’ll walk to the hospital. Or take the metro.”

                “Oh no you will not,” he said. And just like that, the burly stranger I met in a southeast D.C. grocery store, was taking me to the hospital – as if I’d known him my whole life.

                That was 11 years ago. We married a year later. We’ve been inseparable ever since. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me. He is nothing I ever imagined when I dreamed about the man I’d spend my life with. The thing is, once he won my heart, I couldn’t imagine another existence – as if we were formed from the beginning, for each other. He’s everything I’ve ever needed and nothing I knew I wanted. We are opposites in many ways. But in every way that matters, he is my best friend – my true companion.

We built this house, into the mountain, a few years ago, after we’d wandered and dreamed about where we would settle. It’s weird like us – mid-century modern angles, expansive windows, and high ceilings – and the sweetest stone fireplace you ever did see. I long for home when I’m away, coming home to this man and our refuge is the best sort of gift. When it’s cold, he lights the fire before I get home. But even without it, he’s like that fire, keeping me warm from the inside out. I long for him even still, after all this time, as if it was the first time. His physical strength and single-minded pursuit of me has been steadying me for 11 years. I’ll never get over his love for me. And I will never love another human more than him.

Without considering for a second the need to grab my luggage or even my purse, the second I turn off the car in the garage, I head into the house – needing the arms that hold me . When I left California earlier today, the blazing hot sun and Santa Ana winds blew through the Temecula valley wine country. But here, so far from that dusty place, it’s cold now – the weather has turned. It’s autumn now. The warmth of the fire warms me instantly when I open the door – as does the mischievous smile that’s made me rather lusty – for so long now. My husband is hot. A smile bursts out. I cannot contain myself. Long before I reach him, the gratitude of all these years, overwhelms me. “I thought you’d never get here,” he says.

“I’ve been trying to get home for days,” I say. “It’s all I could think about. I missed you.” His arms pull me close.

“Good thing I don’t have to share you for a while. A week is too long. Can we just agree on this now? There has to be a better way,” he says.

“A week is too long. We’ll figure something out,” I say,” melting into him and his kiss. As the sun sets in the kitchen window behind us, his arms around me – he fills me in on the week I’ve missed. He holds me close – as if I’m going somewhere. The man is stuck with me. Come hell or highwater, I’m not going anywhere.