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.

Grief, Finality, Joy, and Gardenias

kristen-macadams-M0jnYTeqTVg-unsplash, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos, grief, letting go and holding on

As an artistic person and a writer that is emotional and often taken by romantic ideals and inspiration in odd places, I used to have this joy that would take hold of me at so many lovely moments in life. It was like this deeply flowing joy that bubbled up to the surface. Life wasn’t always what I expected (that’s for sure), but I could take a hike in the Croatan national forest, along the Neuse river, and be overwhelmed by inexplainable peace and joy. It could be the scent of the pine forest or the way the knobby tree roots were exposed in the sand and water. Or the way my dog would run with such abandon – happy as a clam. I don’t need a lot. I’m a lover of a truly simple life. I absolutely can be happy with the littlest of things in life. I chose joy. I chose joy more often than I didn’t.

The last couple of years have sapped so much of this from me. Yesterday seemed to be the finality I’ve been waiting for. But it was finality without closure if that makes sense. And in that finality, the grief of these two years overwhelmed me. Yesterday and long into the overnight hours, I was overcome. I haven’t recovered today. I woke up feeling hungover – with a headache and swollen eyes. It wasn’t a hangover at all. Except with the losses and finality of it all.

There are two random gardenia bushes in the breezeway near my apartment. It’s random because I’m not sure they’re anywhere else in the apartment complex. They’re in bloom right now. Gardenias are special to me. I adore them for their beauty and scent. But more than that, my grandparents used to grow them. And every time I would leave my grandparent’s house, my Grandpa Avalos would pick gardenias, roses, and other lovely flowers, for a tiny bouquet for me. He often made one for my mom too – though my parents had long been divorced by then. It was one of the things that was so sweet and special about him. This afternoon, as I walked the dog, a gust of wind blew through the breezeway. It filled the air with the scent of the gardenias. It was magical. But I still didn’t fully connect with the joy – with all of the emotion I would have – prior to these past two years. It made me sad. But the more I thought on this, the more convinced I became that it was a sign – straight out of heaven – that I may not be there yet, but I will get back to that place again.

It gave me a little push – a little reminder of what I’m fighting so hard for. I’m fighting hard for the life I’ve prayed for, for so very long. I’m fighting hard to get back to the me that would have been giddy with joy as the gardenia’s rich perfume overwhelmed me. So while I’m not there, even in the pain, I am getting there. Because now I remember what I’m fighting for.

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.

50 by 50

Anne Lamott, Elaina M. Avalos, elaina avalos, 50 by 50

In April 2026, I will turn 50. This year feels like a big birthday, as I turn 45. But gosh, there’s a lot I’ve still got to do before hitting 45 and six weeks won’t do it. So, after a friend posted about her 40 before 40 (that she’s now added a few more items onto for 50 before 50), I’ve decided that I’m going to join in the fun. I am not sure how long it will take me to come up with the full list. Some of this might be ridiculous stuff, big stuff, or things that only matter to me, but I’m starting to work on this list now. I may keep some private. But, I’ll share periodic updates. What would you add to my list? Have you ever done something like this for a milestone birthday? I’d love to hear all about it!

1. Start camping again.
2. Travel to France or Scotland for my 50th birthday (I mean, I’ll take sooner too).
3. Trip to the NC mountains in the autumn.
4. Trip to upstate New York to meet family & see where my grandparents grew up & my mom lived.
5. Fall in love.
6. Start a family. I hear I’m kind of late on this one. Whatever.
7. Get a book contract.
8. Learn Spanish. Like really learn Spanish.
9. Take a dance class (salsa, ballroom, etc).
10. Go to the Pat Conroy Literary Festival in Beaufort, SC.
11. Attend one of the wine dinners at the Beaufort (NC) Wine & Food Festival.
12. Take at least one random (can be a quick day-trip) road trip every few months.
13. Eat at Chef & the Farmer again.
14. Take a few of Chef Marcela’s cooking classes.
15. Western NC Winery Trip (preferably soon). 30 April-01 May 2021
16. Get back to Wolf Trap for a summer concert.
17. Convert website to business plan & learn (really learn) SEO.
18. Make good use of my ridiculous Pinterest time investment.
19. Get a little better with time management (don’t laugh).
20. Finally make a decision about what I want to be when I grow up.
21. Live in a pretty little home with my dream backyard & grow lots of veggies, herbs, and fruit.
22. Hit my target weight (and stay there). I’m on my way having lost 18 pounds so far.
23. Dedicate more time to painting & crafty mccrafterson activities.
24. Cook my way through Deep Run Roots by Chef Vivian Howard (see #13 – that’s her restaurant).
25. Cook my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I own both books but haven’t cooked enough in either. 26. Get a tattoo.
27. Go skydiving.
28. Get a wedding planning & event planning certificate.
29. Go to Indochine (Thai/Vietnamese restaurant in Wilmington, NC).

Okay, I think I have to take a break there. I am sure I have more things to add to my list!