It’s the Little Things

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

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

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

1. Fresh daffodils in my favorite vase.

Kitchen Window View, Trees, Woods, Elaina Avalos

2. The view from my kitchen window.

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

Your Plan and God's Plan, Elaina Avalos

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

5. My quiet home.

6. Being heard.

7. Sunsets.

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

8. New to me songs…

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

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

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.

Wooden Saints & Pluff Mud

beaufort south carolina, elaina m. avalos, parris island, lowcountry,
Marsh sunsets

I drove south, about 250 miles, this afternoon. Though I’ve lived near the coast of North Carolina (aka Eastern North Carolina) for most of the last 20 years (with a few detours along the way), I saw country this afternoon I’ve never seen before. No matter how many times I encounter these backroads swamps, corn fields, or sweet potatoes – stretching out forever – nestled between thick pine forest, it still catches this city girl by surprise. It’s always a delight.

I’m in South Carolina’s Lowcountry now, staying at a sweet little Airbnb. My room – with a view of the marsh, is nothing compared to the gift of sitting on this quiet front porch this evening. Blessed quiet. I can’t tell you the joy of not being in an apartment today. The fan is whirring, I have a glass of wine, and I’m currently listening to Ray LaMontagne’s “Such a Simple Thing,” from this playlist:




I don’t know what the days ahead hold for me. I mean, who does, really? But sometimes we have these sweet breaks. Moments of pure joy & delight in the midst of the unknown. And today/tomorrow is one of those breaks for me.

I write about the places I know (California, D.C., and the lovely North Carolina coast). They are featured heavily in my fiction. But outside of Nicholas Sparks, there aren’t many traditionally published writers based in and writing about North Carolina – the coast in particular. There are books set in places such as the Outer Banks. But they’re not “North Carolina writers” and place isn’t something they’re truly intimately connected to. There are exceptions. They are out there. But, those writing about the Lowcountry of South Carolina are a whole other story, however. There are so many. Some of my favorites write about the Lowcountry. I crossed the Edisto River this afternoon, and though I’ve never been here, it’s a name I know well – as if it was an old friend.

For blog readers that aren’t familiar with the area, I’m about an hour and twenty minutes from Charleston, SC and about 50-ish minutes from Savannah, Georgia. The thing about Lowcountry writers is that they write these marshes, pluff mud creeks, palmetto tree, low-tide, and high-tide rivers and creeks, and sea turtle – places, as if the place itself is an actual being. The place is a character in the book. No one else, except maybe North Carolina’s Sarah Addison Allen (who writes magical realism – set mostly in western NC), does this. I can be corrected. Feel free to prove me wrong. But Sparks, though he writes of roads and places and events (New Bern’s Ghost Walk for instance) I know well – his novels don’t make the place a character. The places are written well. But they’re not living and breathing beings. The closest he gets to this is a A Bend in the Road (set in my beloved downtown New Bern – where I once lived).

beaufort south carolina, beaufort, parris island

Low County writers write this place as if it is a living and breathing being – as if the creeks, rivers, and marshes will rise up and chat with you – if only you would sit still long enough. My favorite book (one of my favorite of all-time) that does this is Sweetwater Creek by Ann Rivers Siddons. It may not be the most critically acclaimed novel I’ve ever read (though a bestseller), but I will tell you this right now, Ms. Siddons writes these marshes and creeks in a way that made me long for them as a home, though I’d never been here before.

Maybe one of the most famous Lowcountry writers is the Pat Conroy. Conroy had an ability to write just about anything in a way that made me want to read more. My favorite book of his, isn’t a novel, however. It’s My Reading Life – a sort of autobiography – only it’s through the lens of the impact of the most significant books he’d read in his lifetime. Though I wished to go to the Pat Conroy Literary Center while I was here, they’re not open until Thursday (insert sad face here). I will make it eventually.

“When I started out as a kid in Beaufort who wanted to be a writer I didn’t have the slightest notion how to become one…. My home state has given me a million stories and no writer who ever lived had such riches to choose from. What I owe South Carolina is not repayable.” ~Pat Conroy.

Eventually, I will make my way back up the coast, tomorrow. I may take the long route – but I’ll eventually find myself back in Eastern North Carolina. For how long, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that this brief break in the pace of my every day life, is a kindhearted reminder, that I can’t lose sight of the main thing.

I’ve spent nearly twenty years of my life making my job the thing. It’s not that it’s not important. I would not trade these years. Maybe. I may not find myself outside of working for the federal government for quite some time. Who knows? I certainly do not. But I do know that I’m learning every dang day, to keep the main thing, the main thing. And the job just ain’t it. As I get ready to turn in for the night, I’m reminded of the pursuit of this thing that makes me who I am. The dream I laid down? It was for a worthy cause, surely. But sometimes comfort become a habit, one we’re meant to throw off.

Sometimes the place you’re used to, is not the place you belong. – Unknown


In the quiet of this cute little brick, ranch house – with its ticking clocks and wooden saints in the window – I’m reminded of the way I was formed and the way I grew. I remember the hard and rocky roads that brought me here. It’s all led to the words I was meant to write. There is redemption and restoration there in those hard places. There is restoration in the words I’m writing now.

elaina m. avalos, beaufort south carolina, beaufort, parris island


When you speak for a person (in your professional life), you can possibly (as I have) become uncomfortable with the push and pull between public vs. private. Even more so when your name is not easily lost in the Jennifer Smiths of the vast interwebs. When the vulnerability you know is required in your writing, exposes you to those you’d rather not be exposed to, you could (I did) shrink back, lessen your words, shrink what you once believed possible, and grow too comfortable with what was.

When I stood at the kitchen sink, in this quiet airbnb this evening, and looked into the yard, past the saint in the window, I remembered what it was like to learn from the artists I knew best (mostly my Grandmother) growing up. If I’m not writing “clear and hard about what hurts” (Ernest Hemingway), I will always miss the mark. I have been missing the mark for quite some time.

For friends still reading this far – here’s what I want you to do:

1. Keep writing (clear and hard) about what hurts (or gives you joy or sets you free or lights a fire in your heart).
2. Don’t hold back.
3. Chase (hard) after those things you know (in your soul) you’re meant to do and be. It may not happen over night – getting to this place you know you’re meant to be. But nothing meant for you will pass you by. Of this I am certain. So keep at it. Keep pressing. Keep waiting – but actively waiting with expectation and hope.
4. And then, keep waiting, hoping, & working.

I don’t know where the path is taking me, but I know what I’m called to do – wherever it leads. I think you know, too – friend.

Steadying Yourself in the Waves

Roaring Rivers Vineyard and Winery, Roaring Rivers Vineyards, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Roaring Rivers Vineyard – our third stop tomorrow!

Do you know what I am? I am beat. It has been the longest two years of my life. I know everyone was sick of 2020 and pandemic life. It has been hard. I’m emotionally beat down and exhausted. I sometimes can’t see past the craziness that has been all around me at every turn. I don’t share much here about my professional life. But between what happened with my {foster} son, his family, and the last year at work, I am burned out.

One of the things therapy has been reminding me is that I can steady myself in the waves, even though it sometimes seems impossible. What I really want is for the waves to stop – to give me a chance to recover between the hits. They just don’t. That’s not life, friends. If you read here much, you may have noticed I love the ocean. What is true of the sea is that the waves don’t stop. They’re constant. This is comforting in many ways. But when thinking about them as problems or struggles in life, it can feel a little overwhelming. I can’t stop them from coming. And if I try, I’m going to be extremely disappointed to say the least. The key is to figure out how to steady myself in the waves as they come.

I’m working on it. I’m getting better and better at it all of the time. But some of it requires me simply shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Sorry. I can’t do that right now.” Or, in my head, while dealing with a toxic sort of soul, let him think and do what he will. He can control many things – but he can’t control my reactions. Other ways I’m dealing with the crazy: taking vacation days, having “I think I’m going to . . . ” kind of days – where I just do the little things that give me joy, writing, and staying in bed on days when it seems like I can’t eek out another minute in all this toxic craziness. These are all life giving to me.

Shelton Vineyard and Winery, Shelton winery, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Shelton Vineyards – Our first stop!

So . . . this trip is a little impractical due to what I’ll call a work project. But I need it. Have you ever just needed something or someone and you just . . . you just gotta go for it? That’s me these days. So while the waves keep coming, I’m finding the ways to steady myself. And I’m going after what I want. I mean, if I don’t go for it – for my life – who will?

I am looking forward to my little weekend getaway. But more than just the weekend itself, I’m considering this the start to an amazing year.

grassy creek vineyard, bailey batten photography, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Stop numero dos – Grassy Creek Vineyard & Winery (they have some trails I want to check out too).

What are the ways you steady yourself in the waves? I share because I know there are others struggling and there’s no point to going through hard times if we can’t share our experiences with others.

Confusion & Clarity

“There must be something strangely sacred in salt. It is in our tears and in the sea.”

Khalil Gibran


I am restless. Restless with passion. Restless with questions. Restless with dreams and plans that are left in a state of waiting. I’m restless with longing and with the confusion that comes from letting go, when I don’t want to let go.

There are so many decisions to be made and I as reach a bit of peace, the questions return and I’m back where I started. As I usually do when I’m in this state of mind, I feel pulled toward the ocean. The vastness of it, calms. And the greatness of a God I don’t understand, seems to clarify things – when I need it most.

So though it’s not practical, I’m driving over to North Topsail Beach, which is one of our North Carolina barrier islands. It’s not practical to watch the sunset on Sunday evening – not when I have a list of things to do before going back to work on Tuesday. It’s not practical when I have more editing and writing to do. I have more laundry to tackle. And there’s chicken in the crockpot that will be waiting on me.

But I need the clarity the ocean brings me. So I’ll go. And trust clarity is coming.