Of Grief and Gratitude: On Leaving Hong Kong

Yesterday, I blinked back tears as I handed in my notice. The principal in her smart black blazer and Adidas sneakers stopped me and said,“No sad! You make the children here very happy. I wish you and your family to be happy. Big hugs.” Her words were spare and earnest, her kindness both a comfort and another crack in my breaking heart.

On Facetime, friends and family say, “I-can’t-wait-to-see-you,” and, “You-must-be-so-excited.” And I wonder, Must I be?

Of course I want to see them. This family, these friends—they are the entire reason we are returning to the U.S. Because we’ve found ourselves on the other side of the world with this vibrant, gorgeous, hilarious, child who has never even met most of her family. Many of our dear friends back in the US are neck-deep in the daily liturgy of keeping tiny humans alive. We always dreamed we’d do this part together with them. Because we believe that we cannot do it alone. We believe in the value of raising children in a community who will love our children like their own. And we want our daughter to know and be known by the people who have shaped us.

I believe all of these things to the core of my being. And yet…I don’t know how to explain that this does not feel like coming home so much as it feels like leaving it.

I have faith that a year from now, life will be sweet in ways I can’t even foresee right now. But believing that does not make this transition any easier.

We have done the picking up and moving thing so many times now, but each time it’s been harder. This is without a doubt the hardest one yet. I love this city. I love the mountains and the harbor and the islands and the beaches, the neon signs and the brilliant skyline. I love the dim sum and the trolley and the markets and the egg tarts. I love the women in their carefully curated, perfectly tailored outfits, each piece costing about as much as my entire wardrobe. I love the elderly people who play old Chinese pop music aloud while they hike. I love that my friends here are from all over the world, and that they constantly challenge me to think differently about politics, priorities, faith, and what deep friendship looks like.

I love all 450 sq ft of the home that we’ve built together. First as a family of two and then swelling and stretching to fit first Juniper and then our beloved auntie, Beverly. It frightens me to think of taking Juniper away from the only home she has ever known. It makes me physically sick to think of taking her away from Beverly, both for Junie’s sake and for Beverly’s. They adore each other.

Most days, sad does not feel like a big enough word for what I feel. It’s something closer to grief. It is a visceral pain in the place where my ribs join my sternum, by turns sharp and dull, like a cough drop lodged in my trachea, difficult to breath around. For more than a year now we’ve talked and prayed and talked and prayed about this decision. Even after we’d made a decision, part of me thought if I just ignored it, it wouldn’t really happen. And now it’s six weeks away.

So I move through the motions. Take pictures of items to sell online. Force myself to respond politely to a dozen messages trying to negotiate a discount on the pieces of my life. Force myself not to scream, “Don’t you understand? This is what I wore while I carried my daughter (safely inside my body) through a year of tear gas and riot gear and fire. And this? This is the mat where my baby learned to roll over, where she learned to bat at toys, her fingers splayed wide like a starfish, where she smiled at me for the first time. These moments were holy. No, you cannot have a discount on my existence.”

Today there was a moment when the grief hit me so hard it took my breath away. And then I thought, I don’t want to spend my last precious days here being miserable. And I thought of an essay by Andre Dubus that I first read eleven or twelve years ago. At the age of 49, Dubus was in an accident that resulted in the loss of one of his legs and paralysis in the other. He had stopped to assist another motorist who had been in an accident and, while pulling the survivor out of the wreckage, he was hit by a passing car. In “A Country Road Song,” Dubus writes about his memories of running, not with bitterness, but with profound gratitude.  

 “When I ran, when I walked, there was no time: there was only my body, my breath, the trees and hills and sky…I always felt grateful, but I did not know it was gratitude and so I never thanked God. Eight years ago, on a starlight night in July, a car hit me…and in September a surgeon cut off my left leg… It is now time to sing of my gratitude: for legs and hills and trees and seasons…I mourn this, and I sing in gratitude for loving this, and in gratitude for all the roads I ran on and walked on, for the hills I climbed and descended, for trees and grass and sky, and for being spared losing running and walking sooner than I did: ten years sooner, or eight seasons, or three; or one day.”

“A Country Road Song” Meditations from a Movable Chair

I remembered this passage and I thought, If I cannot stop the grief, let me sink into the gratitude as well.

And so. It’s time to mourn and to sing in gratitude for Hong Kong. For loving this place and these people. For the mountains and the beaches, for the monkeys and the pink dolphins, for the dazzling skyline, for the temples with their countless golden Buddhas, for my students, for my coworkers, for my friends, and for the family I grew here. I sing in gratitude for all of this and for being spared losing it any sooner than I am: two years sooner, or nine months, or three; or one day.

A Letter to My Daughter: You’re Not the Best and Other Things I Hope to Teach You

People like to write sappy letters to their unborn children. It’s a thing. I get it. There’s something all mushy gushy about imagining your little person and all your hopes and dreams for them. I too have some hopes for my daughter. Mostly I hope she’s going to be a badass baller with a mane of red hair. But there are also some things I really hope to teach her. I decided to share them with you I guess so you can start judging my parenting skills before I even start parenting properly? Or something?


Dear Daughter (who has a freaking awesome name that I can’t wait to use), 

These are some things I hope you learn from my words and actions in the next 18 or so years. 

You are important. And so is everyone else.

You are fantastically gifted. You are treasured. You are infinitely adored. AND you are an oh-so-tiny speck in a great big universe. 

What I’m trying to say is that the world does not revolve around you, Darling. We live in constant balance between our own wants and the needs and desires of the people in our families, our communities, and the world. 

We are so blessed to get to be a part of this big messy world. But we have a responsibility to God, to nature, and to the other humans we share this planet with to recognize that we are not the most important beings in the universe. 

I want you to grow to understand that each person you come into contact with is important and is loved, whether they know it or not. And because of that, they deserve your respect and compassion, just as you deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. 

You’re not the best at everything. And that’s OK. 

I promise that I will always be proud of your efforts in whatever you do. I will be proud when they end in triumph, and I will be proud when you put your heart into something and fail. You do not have to be the best to have done well. You only have to have given the best of yourself in the trying.

I will try to teach you how to be genuinely happy to see other people come alive doing what they are good at. Even if you suck at it. Especially if you suck at it. Because then you will understand how to love people well when they are not good at the things that come easily to you.

Mom and Dad love you enormously and unconditionally. But we love each other first.

We have a history. 12 years together before you even existed. You were created out of our love for each other (and also a little too much fun in Vietnam, but that’s another story). You don’t have to be jealous of the love we have for each other or the time we spend together. It is our love for each other that will help us to love you well.  

It’s OK to be sad.

Sometimes, Mom gets sad, but it’s not because of you. Sometimes it’s not because of anything. Sometimes you might feel sad and not even know why, and that’s ok.

Our brains and our emotions are weird. They don’t always communicate clearly. Sometimes the feelings come before the understanding. Sometimes the understanding comes and the feelings show up behind schedule. Sometimes you just need to cry a little for no real reason. So cry.  And then take a deep breath, take a sip of water, blow your nose, and keep on going.

Lies are not cool.

From day one, one of my biggest goals as a mother is to never, ever lie to you.

Even if you ask about something difficult. Even if the answer isn’t what you want to hear. Even if the truth makes me look bad. Even if it means admitting that I just don’t know. 

I will not lie to you about how Santa gets around the world in one night or where babies come from or what it means to die. I hope that practicing radical honesty with you will help you to trust me and to extend that same level of honesty back and to know that nothing is off-limits. 


And now, here are a few requests I have for you. Because it’s cool to put expectations on the unborn, right?

Try not to have stupid hobbies or interests. Please?

I hope you never feel constrained by the ridiculous notion that certain activities are gendered. There are no “girl things” or “boy things.” If you like playing with dolls, awesome. If you like catching frogs, also awesome. I hope as you grow that you will find yourself fascinated by things I’ve never even thought about. I want you to develop passions that challenge and inspire you. 

But for the love of goodness could you please not choose something stupid to put your heart into? Mostly I’m thinking of activities your parents will have to sacrifice all of their evenings and weekends to help you participate in while wanting to tear our own fingernails out. 

I mean, if cup stacking is what really, truly lights your fire, I will support you. But…I will also probably tell you that that’s an objectively stupid hobby. But like, nicely.

If it’s a dumb sport, you get a pass cause Dad and I made an arrangement a long time ago that if we ever had kids that were into dumb sports that would be his responsibility.

Please, please, please love books.

I’m just gonna say it, OK? If you don’t love books, we can’t be friends. 

Of course, I will still love you. I just won’t like you as much. 

Kidding. (Not kidding).

Just promise me you’ll try.




What I’m Into: July 2016 Edition

In July, I jumped full-swing into my new job, planned and cooked what felt like 1,000 meals that are Whole30 compliant (today is day 28!!!!), and drove all over the Carolinas trying to visit friends before summer ends. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share this post.

What I’m Reading:

When my stress level is high (and when I have long solo drives and access to audiobooks) I escape into reading, and this month I read 12 books. I’ll mention all of the titles, but won’t go into much detail or this will get crazy-long.

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher. Quirky family drama about the eccentric Rockwell women. Funny and heartwarming. 3.75 Stars

Who Do You Love? By Jennifer Weiner. I like some of Jennifer Weiner’s books, but this one was a bit of a slog to me. Rachel Blum and Andy Landis meet when they are eight years old. Then they spend the next 30 years falling in and out of each other’s lives. 2 Stars.

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison. This thriller starts on the day that Aubrey Hamilton’s husband is declared dead, five years after he disappeared. But things may not be what they seem. Fast-paced summer read. 3 Stars

Furiously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Jenny Lawson writes comic essays about serious things. In this book, she tackles elements of life with mental illness. Her sense of humor is irreverent and isn’t for everyone, but some of the serious moments were really poignant. 3 Stars.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. Another summer thriller about two girls who disappear from the same small town 10 years apart. The story is told backwards over a 15 day period. At first I thought this was gimmicky, but in the end I liked it. 3.5 Stars.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi writes (very well) about her life in India, as an immigrant in America, as a model in Europe, as the wife of Salman Rushdie, and as a judge on Top Chef. In each part of her life, food plays an important role. I actually loved this, especially for Lakshmi’s honesty, even when it portrayed her unflatteringly. The food writing was great and her experiences were fascinating. 4 Stars.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Sweet story about a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl living in Seattle, Washington just as America enters WWII. Henry’s father hates the Japanese and forbids Henry to have anything to do with them, but Henry forms a strong bond with Keiko, the only other non-white person at his school. When she and her family are rounded up and moved to an internment camp, Henry vows to bring her home. 4.5 Stars.

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, writes about the year she challenged herself to say yes to all the things that scared her and embrace the opportunities that came her way. She writes just like Olivia Pope and Annaleise Keating speak, so that’s fun, especially on audio. 3.5 Stars.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. This was great. 104-year-old Ona Vitkus is alone in the world until an 11-year-old boy scout is sent to help her out. Ona tells him about her life and he shares his encyclopedic knowledge of world records. One day, the boy stops showing up. In his place is his father, Quinn, there to fulfill his son’s obligation. Together, Ona and Quinn teach each other above love and regret. 5 Stars.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Twenty-two year old Tess moves to New York City and becomes a waiter at a prestigious restaurant. She is exposed to the intoxicating world of the restaurant business as well as some of its darker character. So much cocaine. So many dysfunctional relationships. I wasn’t connected to the character but there was great atmosphere in the restaurant and food writing parts. 3 Stars.

Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown. The follow-up to Daring Greatly, this book explores the process of how we get up again once we’ve fallen on our faces and why vulnerability is still the way forward. Not necessarily a fun book, but an important one. 4 Stars.

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I loved this multi-generational story of three Indian women (and the other people whose lives intersect with theirs) whose stories of running from the mothers who can’t understand them, reveals how little we often know about what’s really going on in the lives of others. 4 Stars.

Currently Reading: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal and A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Gamache #2) by Louise Penny. Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching:

I binge-watched Season 2 of Jane the Virgin when it hit Netflix. I love this show so much. But I have no idea if I’m team Michael or team Rafael. It changes constantly.

What I’m Eating:

Jonathan and I are on day 28 of Whole30 which is no grains, no dairy, no sugars, no soy, no artificial flavors, additives, or preservatives. The good part of this is detoxing from 3 weeks of pasta and pizza and gelato (and many previous months of not eating as well as we could). The hard part is that it takes a lot of work and planning to eat three Whole30 compliant meals every day and it has more or less killed our social life because it is very hard to eat out or eat at a friend’s house. You have to read the label on everything you eat and it matters what oils things are cooked in, etc. We are beyond ready to be done. At this point I would say I will continue to eat this way more or less when cooking at home, but I don’t think I’ll ever do Whole30 again. It’s like living life in black and white.

I did find some really delicious new recipes though. My favorite has been this pan-seared mahi-mahi over coconut cauliflower rice with fresh mango salsa. Recipe here. Follow me on Pinterest for more of what I’m eating.


What I’ve Been Up To:

Right after returning from our trip, I took the 4th of July weekend to fly down to Louisiana and visit my family, specifically my sister Anni who was about to leave to study abroad in Australia for the semester.


We spent a significant amount of our time reading in her bed. Seesters.

The next weekend, Jonathan and I drove to Raleigh to visit my best friend from college, Christina, and her husband Andy who recently bought their first house. We also got to see our friends Nathaniel and Jerusha while we were there. We stayed with Andy and Christina overnight on Friday and while we were there, our mutual friend Asharae (who lived with Christina and me during college) went into labor in Charlotte. Asharae and her husband Tim had chosen not to find out their baby’s gender before the birth, so Christina and I were eagerly awaiting the news. The minute we heard they’d had a healthy baby boy, we raced out to buy tiny baby boy clothes for him.


The next day, Jonathan and I were able to go to Charlotte to visit Asharae and Tim in the hospital and to meet tiny Beckett Elijah. My heart is so full for these sweet friends.


Sweet Little Family


Ecstatic Auntie and Uncle!

The following weekend I got to help throw a baby shower for Kelly, another dear friend of mine here in Columbia expecting a son in September. I Pinterest-ed a recipe for cake pops which turned out mostly well except that the candy melts I used for the coating kept turning out too thick, so the coating wouldn’t go on smoothly.


How cute is Kelly?! And also that alligator towel.

I also got to spend an afternoon at the zoo with my friend Kristen and her boy, Callum. My favorite part was the gorillas who, like me, were totally over it.


I took a solo overnight trip to Wilmington, NC where I got to see one of my best friends from home in Louisiana who lives in a charming house there with her handsome firefighter husband, their massive dog Grizz, and their new Dalmatian puppy, Koda. She is one of those friends that I can reconnect with immediately, even if it’s been months since we’ve talked. We tried to go to the beach, but it was too crowded, so instead we bopped around town and looked for secondhand bargains.


Last week, Jonathan’s parents came to visit for a few days. It’s been near 100 degrees here every day all summer, so we are limited on how much activity we can do, but we enjoyed playing board games and talking.

This past weekend while Jonathan was working at the baseball park I took another short solo trip up to Stanfield, NC, the town outside of Charlotte where Asharae, Tim, and baby Beckett live.



Beckett has epic hair.

My new job involves me finding host families for our international students, arranging their transportation and move-in, organizing a week-long orientation, and teaching ESL class once school begins on August 18th. Since my students start arriving this weekend, I know the month of August will be a crazy one, which is why I’ve made it a priority to see my friends over the past few weeks, even if it means traveling every weekend.

I’m still working on telling all of our travel adventures. Parts 1 and 2 are up already, but look for Part 3 about our time in Rome in the next few days!

What have you been into?



Fifty-two weeks of Adventure #51: Family Pictures and Purple Hair

Last week my in-laws came to visit us in South Carolina. Jonathan’s sister was home from college for Christmas break and his brother had come back from South Africa where he lives. Since Jonathan and I had been in Korea for the past two years, this was the first time the whole family had been together since August 2013.

I really love Jonathan’s family – they are lots of fun and we all get along really well together. Of course, having people stay at your house is always a little stressful, especially when your house is pretty small like ours is, but the Dunn clan is pretty easy-going and that made their visit lots of fun, even though it was a little crowded.

Since this was the last time we would all see each other before Christmas, we exchanged Christmas presents early. Naturally, we prepared for the festivities by putting on this “Yule Log” video of Nick Offerman sipping whiskey at a glacial pace in front of a fireplace. (Literally all he does is sit there and sip whiskey without speaking for an hour).


Jonathan decided to give me one of my Christmas presents early.


Yes, that is a 2-step step ladder. Because I am vertically challenged and can’t reach things on the top shelves of the kitchen cabinets. (Jonathan says I am his “shorty”). This rivals the Tide Pen of ’08 for most romantic gift he’s ever given me.

The one big event we did with Jonathan’s family was taking family pictures. After much deliberation about the coordination of outfits, we ended up in the most perfectly color-coordinated group ensemble I’ve ever seen. My super talented, amazing, hilarious, soul sister Lorien took these pictures for us. I LOVE them.


The one negative part of having Jonathan’s family around for several days was that my darling idiot cat, Bart, was incredibly stressed out by it. He does not like strangers and has an impressive commitment to hiding from them. One night, after staying under the bed for probably a good 10 hours, he wandered out and stood at my ankles crying and crying so I picked him up. He doesn’t normally like to be picked up, but apparently he was so stressed out and in need of comfort that he immediately buried his head in my arm and stayed that way. Like, “Oh, Mommy, please save me from this horror!”


After my in-laws left and the family pictures were safely out of the way, I decided to take my next two weeks of vacation as an opportunity to try something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Lavender hair.


It’s just a wash out so it’s already mostly faded, but I might do a bit more over the holidays, just for fun. It makes me feel like an exotic mermaid. Or at least a My Little Pony.

Don’t forget that my 10,000 Subscriber Book Giveaway is STILL OPEN, but it does close tonight at midnight. Rules for entering are HERE.

And as always…

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. If you missed last week’s adventure about our grand Christmas Feast, you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure #48: Thanksgiving with the In-Laws and Teaching Grandma about TMI

Like everyone else in America, we celebrated Thanksgiving this past Thursday. We drove to my in-laws house in Ohio, about a 9-hour drive from where we live. It was our first time back to Ohio in over a year, and we always enjoy visiting Jonathan’s parents who are very relaxed and low-key. It’s usually a restful time which was something I desperately needed after two weeks of non-stop work.

Even though there were only six of us there for Thanksgiving (Jonathan’s parents, us, his sister, and his grandma), our Thanksgiving meal on Thursday was complete with all the traditional foods thanks to my mother-in-law, who is an amazing cook . I contributed a Tollhouse Pie – something I’d never made before, but will absolutely be making again in the future.

Jonathan’s grandma lives nearby in an assisted living community and I always look forward to seeing her because she has so many amusing stories about her life there with the other residents. She’s also a bit infamous for sharing a little TMI and often gets chastised for over-sharing by other members of the family. This Thanksgiving, her significant overshare was referencing the place where Patrick (Jonathan’s brother) had been conceived. It immediately sent me, Brenda (my mother-in-law), and Kacy (my sister-in-law) into variations of, “Ewww. Too far! We did not need to know that!”

“What? Is it just never OK to mention S-E-X now?” Grandma asked, literally spelling out the word.

“It’s just…not when it’s my parents!” said Kacy.

“Grandma, it’s like this,” I explained. “It’s fine if you’re talking about a book or a movie or people we don’t know personally. It’s not cool if it’s someone in your immediate family.”

Apparently this explanation stuck with her because when Brenda dropped her off back at her home Grandma reportedly said, “I’m so glad I was able to talk with Lily. Now I understand when it is and is not appropriate to talk about sex.”

You’re welcome, Dunn family. Also, for the record, I think Grandma is so great. If you can’t speak your mind when you’re 84, then when can you?

After eating ourselves into comas and taking the obligatory Thanksgiving afternoon naps, we all (except Grandma) went out to see the final installment of the Hunger Games movies.  To the best of my memory it ran fairly closely to the book (though it’s been a while since I’ve read it). The ending is pretty bittersweet – not entirely happy, but hopeful.

On Wednesday Brenda, Kacy, and I braved the crowds for some Black Friday shopping. We didn’t get up at the crack of dawn like crazy people, but we did go out late morning and found some good deals at stores that were 50% or more. Black Friday shopping can be hard for me in terms of what I should get for myself because my birthday is the first week of December and Christmas comes right afterwards. If Jonathan is going to buy me presents, I’d rather we get them at a discounted price since the money all comes from one account, but at the same time, I don’t want to just buy all of my own presents since the point of presents isn’t just having more things, it’s the thought that goes into them.

On Saturday we had a biscotti and fudge-making extravaganza. Brenda had thought of making biscotti and fudge to give as gifts to coworkers and friends and I thought this was a great idea. Together we managed to make 3 different kinds of fudge along with 3 different kinds of biscotti. I would never have thought of biscotti, but it was really fun to make and makes a great gift because it stays good for quite a long time.

We drove back home on Sunday which took nearly 12 hours because of bad traffic and multiple accidents. While the driving time was not ideal, the time with family was great. I’m blessed with in-laws whom I genuinely enjoy spending time with and I’m looking forward to seeing them again in a few weeks to celebrate Christmas.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure about my visit to the Sesquicentennial State Park, you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure #43: Living It Up in the City

A few weeks ago my little sister called me and asked if I wanted to take a trip with her. Her birthday was coming up and she had the idea that maybe instead of a gift or birthday money my parents would be willing to give her some frequent flyer miles to fly us up to NYC for the weekend. Since I’m under-employed and was being offered a free trip I said, “Heck yes!” Which is how I found myself on a plane bound for New York this past Friday.


I love New York City and even applied to schools there when I was looking at colleges. Somehow, even though I was accepted to Fordham and NYU with scholarships, my heart was set on Wheaton. It’s strange to look back on those big life decisions and wonder how life would have been different if you’d made a different choice. I met my husband and made some of my best friends at Wheaton, so it’s hard to imagine my life without it, a fact I remind myself of as I continue to pay off those student loans.

Anyway, I love New York City and since I had had two major hysterical meltdowns in the past few weeks, it seemed like an ideal time to get away. My sister Maggi flew up from Baton Rouge and had a layover in Charlotte, NC. I met her at the airport there and we flew the rest of the way together. My awesome and generous father let us use his hotel rewards points and we were able to stay at a hotel right in Times Square for free.


The last time I was in New York was Jonathan’s and my first wedding anniversary and on that trip we made it a point to see a lot of shows. Not just Broadway musicals, but comedy shows and regular plays as well. We had a blast. This trip was for my sister’s birthday and what she really wanted was to have a fancy-pants dinner at a very ritzy restaurant instead of getting tickets to a show. She made reservations for us at Jean Georges, a three Michelin star restaurant  in the Trump Hotel.

We got to Manhattan around dinner time on Friday and spent some time walking around and had truffle fries and cocktails and tried unsuccessfully to selfie.


On Saturday we took the subway down to Battery Park so we could see the Statue of Liberty. We didn’t take the ferry out to the island, we just saw the statue from the park. Maggi couldn’t remember ever seeing it before and wanted to at least catch a glimpse.


There was an apple festival going on in Battery Park that day so we walked around and sampled some apple-themed cuisine and beverages and enjoyed being out by the water.


From there we walked up to the 9/11 Memorial and the new One World Trade Center. The last time I was in New York this was all still under construction, so it was my first time seeing it.



It’s hard to get a good picture of this, as it is so massive, but this is one of two pools that mark where twin towers once stood. There is a waterfall pouring from the edges down into the middle and then down the hole in the center. It’s meant to give the illusion that it goes on forever.

We did a little bit of shopping in the evening and had a fabulous dinner at Il Forno Hell’s Kitchen where I ate a parmesan mushroom risotto that I’m still dreaming about.


On Sunday we went to the Chelsea Highline, an elevated park built on an old railroad track that runs for about twenty blocks down in Chelsea. This was my first time there and I recommend it to anyone visiting the city. It’s relaxing and lovely and is a unique way to see some of the city from a bit of an elevation.




Sunday evening was our grand meal. Our reservations were for 8:45 and we didn’t leave until just after midnight. We each had a 7-course prix fixe menu. Maggi had the classic Jean Georges menu and I had the Autumn themed menu. We tried to act casual, like we did this sort of thing all the time, but we failed miserably. The food (which was mostly French in style) was divine. I’ve never been so full in my life.


I took pictures of each course and tried to remember all the things they told me about each thing, but there were so many components to each dish that it’s hard to remember. Also, the pictures aren’t great because I couldn’t use my flash and it was really dark in there, but trust me, all of the courses looked and tasted very gourmet.

American sturgeon caviar atop a butter poached turnip with some greens I don't know the name of.

American sturgeon caviar atop a butter poached turnip with some greens I don’t know the name of.

Sashimi with lime juice and radish.

Sashimi with lime juice and pickled radish.

Wild mushroom salad with lightly braised medley of mushrooms and pine nut emulsion.

Wild mushroom salad with lightly braised medley of mushrooms and pine nut emulsion.

Sea bass topped with something and poblano peppers swimming in a coconut cream, mint and lemongrass sauce.

Seared sea bass topped with something and poblano peppers swimming in a coconut cream, mint and lemongrass sauce.

Lobster. There was more, but all I remember is that the little brown sauce on the side was made of hazelnuts and almonds and chili paste.

Lobster. There was more, but all I remember is that the little brown sauce on the side was made of hazelnuts and almonds and chili paste.

Venison encrusted with juniper berries served with venison jou, an emulsion of chestnuts and poblano peppers and caramelized red cabbage.

Venison encrusted with juniper berries served with venison jou, an emulsion of chestnuts and poblano peppers and caramelized red cabbage.

Multiple sorbets to cleanse the palette

Multiple sorbets to cleanse the palette

Dessert dish including Concord grape sorbet, some sort of cookie with cream cheese ice cream on top, a jellied fig thing, and a poached pear.

Dessert dish including Concord grape sorbet, some sort of cookie with cream cheese ice cream on top, a jellied fig thing, and a poached pear.

We finished with these adorable peanut butter and jelly macarons.

We finished with these adorable peanut butter and jelly macarons. They were the size of a postage stamp.

We flew back to our homes on Monday, stuffed to the gills from great food and great company. It’s pretty cool to have a sister who wants to hang out with you and parents who are awesome enough to give up all of their mileage and hotel points so you can take a trip together.

Today I am feeling tired and fat, but most of all incredibly grateful.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure about the South Carolina State Fair you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Rituals: Reading to Sleep

Today I am over at Cara Meredith’s blog, be, mama. be. joining in with her ongoing guest series on rituals. Cara is an internet friend whose writing is always inspiring to me so I was honored when she asked if I would contribute to this series about the every day rituals that make life richer. I chose to write about my life-long habit of reading myself to sleep.

And so I grew to love the way it felt to fall asleep to the rhythm of words, whether the cadence of my mother’s voice or my own internal voice as I read to myself. Reading before bed became as natural as brushing my teeth and putting on my pajamas.”

Read the rest of my post here and check out the rest of Cara’s blog while you’re over there!

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Dineshraj Goomany.

Love and Regret: A Letter to My Sisters

I don’t know how it felt to grow up with me as a sister. I only know how it felt to be yours. When you were born, I didn’t know anything about being a big sister, so I imitated Mom, hoisting you onto my hips at nine years old, like real live baby dolls.

I was in first grade when Anni was born and I asked to take her in for show and tell. Somehow Mom agreed to bring her to the school. We walked around the room with you and I pointed out to everyone that pulsing soft spot on your fuzzy little head where I could see your heartbeats if I watched carefully and Marcus Sapp asked if he could pet you.

From the moment I met you I wanted two things – to take care of you and to show you off. I was still a child and we fought like children, but what I wanted most was to make you laugh and for you to never be hurt.

I often hear people say they have no real regrets because even their mistakes taught them something. I have real regrets. I regret that I wasn’t home to see you grow. I left home when you were 13 and 11 and I never really came back. I regret that I didn’t drive you to school on your first day of high school, or go shopping for your prom dress, or help you practice for your driving test, or weigh the pros and cons of different colleges with you, or the million moments that I missed in between.

Maybe I had to go. Maybe I couldn’t have become who I needed to become if I had stayed. But I should have tried harder to be with you, to be a part of it all. I’m sorry. I will always be sorry.

Now you are women – strong, beautiful, caring women. Women who are brave enough to do hard things, who make a way where none exists, who see the world the way it could be and chase after that vision relentlessly. You are women I want as my friends, but I’m not sure I know how to move forward.

For years we defined ourselves and our place within our family in contrast to one another. Maggi was the athletic and passionate one, Anni was the artistic and shy one, I was the brainy goody-two-shoes, afraid to rock the boat. We each played a particular role, and we came to know each other in those roles, but now we have outgrown them.

We are those people, and yet we aren’t those people and sometimes it feels like it’s all too much. It’s too much for me to change and you to change too. Because here is a truth I never expected to find–I don’t quite know who I am without you.

You are my history, you are woven through the threads of my life in ways even I don’t  understand. But you are also my future. Because no matter where we’ve gone and what we’ve done, no matter how many moments we’ve missed, one thing has stayed the same. My truest, deepest, down-in-my-belly feelings towards you are the same. I want to take care of you and to show you off. I want you to be safe and I want you to laugh often and I want the whole world to see how amazing you are.

So I will keep trying. I will hold you fiercely inside of my heart and I will try to find ways to show you that I am proud of you, that I am dazzled by you, that I love you. But also that I want to know you, just as you are, right now, even from across the world.

To Be (or Not To Be) a Mom: The Continuing Saga

Back in October I wrote this guest post for my friend Brett over at his site, Irresistibly Fish. I had every intention of posting it over here as well, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. I’m posting it here today because I never had the opportunity to share it here and it’s something I’m still really wrestling with in my life right now. Brett has an entire series on his blog called “To Be a Mom” that you should check out if you want to hear some great perspectives on motherhood. (I was the only guest blogger who is not actually a mom).

I do want to be sensitive to any of you who may be struggling with infertility or grieving miscarriages.  I understand that it may be hurtful to hear someone else questioning if they even want children if you have lost deeply-wanted children or are struggling with infertility. It is so not my intention to cause you more pain so I wanted to post this “trigger warning” for those of you who may not want to read this one. 

Also, to be clear, this is not a criticism of people who choose to have children. I believe there are many people who are meant to be parents. This is just an exploration of my own sense of purpose and calling.


To be a mom used to be something I dreamed of. As early as elementary school l I told people I  was telling people that I planned to have six kids (mostly girls with one or two boys thrown in). I regularly made and updated lists of my favorite baby names.

I grew up in a home where motherhood was valued and praised. I have a wonderful, selfless, self-sacrificing mother and my dad adores her. Since I have two sisters who are significantly younger than me, I started practicing my mothering skills at a young age.

To be clear, there was never any pressure or expectation placed on me by my family that my calling in life was to be a wife and mother. I simply had a natural bent towards domesticity and nurture. I like cooking and baking and I love small children. I think I “get” them better than I get adults. Maybe this is because there are parts of childhood I’ve never outgrown – for example, the urge to stomp my feet when I am frustrated or to sing tuneless songs narrating what I’m doing or to be scared of things like balloons that might pop at any moment – so I understand where they’re coming from a lot of the time.

I started babysitting when I was twelve didn’t stop until I was 25. I taught 4-year old Sunday school class at my church all through college and after college I transitioned into full-time nannying, which is the closest you can get to parenting without actually having your own kids. (Of course, this varies from situation to situation, but in some of my jobs I did the grocery shopping, prepared meals, did homework and school projects, washed clothes, bought clothes, arranged play dates, bought birthday presents for parties, and attended school functions so I honestly think it’s fair to say that this was part-time parenting).

I met my husband at 18 and was married at 22. Our plan was always to wait a few years before we started our family, but I still wanted a big brood of kids and felt pressure not to wait too long. As I was nearing 25 and nothing was happening for me career-wise I started to think, “Maybe we should start having kids.” I believed that having kids would be meaningful and frankly, I believed I’d be good at it. It was something I’d always wanted to do.

And then, about two years ago, something in me changed. I can’t explain exactly how or why, but I woke up one day and I no longer felt the desire to have children. People joke that nannying is its own form of birth control. I don’t think it was that nannying made me stop wanting kids. But I do think nannying made me want to be the right kind of parent.

To be a mom, to really be a good mom, you must be willing to die to yourself and to invest the best of who you are into your children. I have a mom like that, so I know what it looks like. I have worked with different kinds of families and there is a profound difference between the parents whose priority is their children and who are willing to sacrifice their comfort, their careers, and their dreams to invest in their kids and the parents whose priority is themselves or their careers or the image they want to project. I don’t doubt that these second kinds of parents love their children. But based on my experience with those kids, I don’t think they are being the kind of parents their kids need them to be.

I started to wonder why I had wanted a family in the first place. Why do most people have children? I don’t mean that in a flippant or cynical way. It’s something I asked very seriously. One of my deeply held beliefs is that WHY we do things matters tremendously. So I started to ask. Do I want children because I’m hoping they will give me a sense of purpose? Because it’s the next thing to cross off the list? Because nothing else in life is working out and this feels like the next logical step? Because I’m afraid of missing out? Because I believe it will express a unique kind of love with my husband? Because I’m curious about what a mini-me-and-Jonathan would be like?

For many people, the desire to have kids is probably some combination of those things. And that’s not necessarily wrong. I’ve just come to believe that, for me, those reasons are not ENOUGH. For me, there has to be a deeper sense of calling and with that a commitment to sacrificing whatever is required to parent well.

Understanding what parenting really means and what it requires has convinced me that it isn’t something that should be undertaken lightly. I genuinely believe that God took the desire for children away from me for a season because it isn’t the right time. Not long after I’d had this total change of heart, the opportunity for my husband and I to move overseas came up. Our move abroad has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and we wouldn’t have made it if we’d had a child or even been trying to have one.

I don’t know if this feeling will last forever or if God will bring back that desire again at the right time. I do believe that God is ultimately in control of my family and that whether or not we have children depends on him much more than on me. But as much as it depends on me, I want to make sure I pursue motherhood for the right reasons. And if I should get pregnant unintentionally, then I will embrace that as a clear sign of God’s timing and will trust that he will equip me for what he’s calling me to.

I used to long for motherhood, but now to be (or not to be) a mom is something I strive to hold with open hands. I want to keep it in proper perspective, neither looking at it as a means of personal fulfilment nor refusing it out of fear or selfishness. To be a mom is a high calling, but it isn’t everyone’s calling. I want to be sure I’m listening to mine.


Image from;

For the Ones Who Are Far From Home

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m sitting at my desk at work trying to say something meaningful about incarnation and hope and glory, but all I can think of is how much I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be at work and I don’t want to be in Korea.

For twenty Christmases I’ve spent Christmas Eve in the holy hush of a candlelight communion service. I’ve worn snowman socks to bed and slept with my sisters on piles of blankets on the floor upstairs so we would wake up together on Christmas morning. For twenty Christmases I’ve been the one who woke up first in the pale gray hours, too full of excitement to fall back asleep. I’ve watched my parents and siblings opening twenty years of Christmas presents, each carefully chosen and wrapped by hand. The memories of these Christmases are joyful and sweet.

This year I will spend Christmas Eve huddled over a space heater in an apartment that’s always cold, 6,000 miles from my family. I will climb into bed and tuck my shoulders beneath my husband’s arms, draping his body across my back like a cape to protect me from the cold and from my sadness. I will close my eyes and try to pray for joy and wonder to return, but mostly I will pray for sleep. I will pray to wake in the morning and find that Christmas has come anyway. I will pray for gratitude for the Christmases I’ve shared with my family and for gratitude for the Christmas I am sharing with my husband today. I will pray that Christmas morning can still be beautiful and miraculous. And I will pray that I will have the eyes to see it.