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My vacation “homes”: Finding your tribe, finding yourself, in the unlikeliest of places

Sometimes I want to go where everybody knows your name. And (if you’re lucky) they’re always glad you came.

My favorite vacation spots are places that somehow manage to feel like home. During my 20s and 30s, I drove to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware whenever possible. My friends Ken and Richard took me under my wing when I was fresh out of college and let me crash at their pad more times than I can count.

Richard grew up in Rehoboth and his family operates the beach concessions, including chairs, umbrellas, and food shacks. This means he knows EVERYONE in town. Ken used to wait tables and now manages the best restaurant in town, where people dine on sweetbreads and tiramisu while perusing the current art exhibit on the walls. (Richard, a fine artist, has a show there every other summer.) Ken knows everyone as well. They are a serious seashore power couple.

I consider Rehoboth my home away from home, and I’ve felt that way ever since my toes touched sand, my teeth sank into a Thrasher’s fry, and I met all the colorful and warm people who live in and visit Rehoboth. Everything just fit into place and it’s now one of the few places where I can truly relax and feel right at home.

Living in the northwest, I’ve come to feel similarly about a handful of places—Whidbey and Orcas islands, in particular. But I never thought I’d feel that way on a tiny island in the South Pacific. For all of my waxing rhapsodic about Rehoboth, I’m not a warm-weather person. I will usually choose the chill of the Northwest to the humid beaches of the tropics. But on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, I’ve come to feel right at home, even as I swat mosquitos and dart in and out of the sun.

And it’s because of the people. Cook Islanders are Maoris and slip back and forth between their native language and English. But their welcoming nature is constant. Carl and I just returned after almost a whole month on the small island. That much time allowed us to ease into the relaxed pace of the islanders. Rather than overscheduling due to a massive case of FOMO that many vacationers experience, we were able to pick and choose activities, based on how we felt and the invitations that cropped up. We decided on dinner based on what Carl caught when he went out fishing with Black Jack. Usually it was tuna but we had a killer dinner of fish and chips made with fresh wahoo. Black also gifted us a haunch of pork, hoof still attached. The Boat Shed or Tupuna’s didn’t stand a chance in the face of pulled pork.

Black invited us to his home for a barbecue, which we found out was a birthday celebration for his 18-year-old daughter. We were the only Caucasians in attendance but I’ll tell you what, I quickly relaxed because I realized I was experiencing the alternate version of my Midwestern upbringing. It all was comfortingly familiar: the men told tall tales and railed against Trump while knocking back bottles of beer and Black Jack carefully tended to the grill, cooking up marinated fish rather than burgers and hot dogs. The table was laden with what I think of as standard “American” picnic fare: potato salad and cole slaw. Those dishes were joined by ika mata (the island’s signature dish of tuna in lime and coconut milk), bananas, and boiled arrowroot. We said grace and sang happy birthday (that awful song is the same even in the southern hemisphere). It was as if I met a swarthier version of my own family. In a word, lovely.

With Onu, owner of Bubbles Below

A photo of myself I never imagined I see

And then there was Onu (the Maori word for “turtle”), a sturdy, good-natured man who owns the diving company on the island. He talked me into a “Discovery Dive,” an idea that would never float in the U.S. because of the liability concerns. But to my surprise, I found myself swimming 13 meters underwater while a sea turtle and manta rays wafted by. It was enchanting.

Not so magical was wiping out on my scooter. But Miles, the manager of our bungalow turned into the driveway right after I managed to park the scooter. He got me a first-aid kit and bent bits and pieces back into the place on the bike. Between my accident and our constant issues with wi-fi, I suspect we were pretty high maintenance but he was always kind and accommodating. Sonja, who owns a café and garden market, added some fresh aloe to my tomatoes, basil and starfruit basket so I could tend to my road rash. Jean, who runs a fresh fruit ice cream stand, took out a giant mud crab from her freezer to show me.

These were all people we can’t wait to spend time with during our next visit. The thing is, when I was on Aitutaki—as in Rehoboth—I’m a person I can’t wait to spend time with. I stop and talk with strangers, I listen to their stories, I’m curious, I’m spunkier. Everyone acknowledges that travel widens your perspective but I’d also add that it helps move you closer to your best self, something that gets lost in our daily schedules and routines. And when you find a tribe at your travel destination, your best self is reflected back at you.

Michelle Obama once said that it bugged her when people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up because that assumed that we arrive at some sort of fixed state when we are actually always becoming. I hope your summer travels take you to a place where you can continue becoming an even more astonishing version of yourself (minus the road rash).

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Food issues

I don’t think of myself as high maintenance, but rather mildly OCD. I like straight corners and tidy piles. And I like to know where my next meal is coming from.

I have often wondered where my obsession over future meals originated. I have pinpointed two reasons for this. First, I have two older brothers and growing up, we were always racing to the bottom…of the bowl. If I didn’t grab that extra slice of pizza, it would end up in John’s belly, not on my plate. When we had popsicles in the house, I would squirrel away one or two in the downstairs freezer, the one where Mom put up all her veggies for the winter in airtight plastic containers. I thought the white-sheathed popsicles would fade into the whiteness of the freezer but damn if my brothers didn’t ferret them out without comment.

When my parents split up when I was 12, groceries duties fell by the wayside and the cupboards became bare, except for an errant tube of barley soup starter that Dad liked to use.

But that was decades ago and I still eat my food too fast and while swallowing the last bite of my lunch, I’m already forecasting a dinner plan. As a privileged American, this is not usually a problem. Food is abundant, from stocked supermarkets to tasty takeout to fine dining.

The Cook Islands are another story. Located in the South Pacific (look at a globe, find Hawaii, and then trace a line south past the equator), it’s a popular vacation spot for New Zealanders. My partner Carl and I are on our second vacation on Aitutaki, the most beautiful of the islands, due to the large jaw-dropping lagoon that encircles it. For each trip, we have checked a bag full of food staples: microwavable rice packets, oatmeal, peanut butter, crackers, chocolate, olive oil, mayonnaise, tea and coffee, non-dairy creamer, gin, spices… This seems excessive but the “grocery stores” here are more like corner bodegas with erratic and limited supplies of fresh produce. One day you’ll nab a head of lettuce and that’s it: there’s nothing else to put in your salad. On our first trip, I bought a snack pack of nuts at the store, chopped them up, and sprinkled them on top of the greens. I thought I was a culinary wizard.

Initially, this scarcity of produce caused me agita. But I have learned to embrace the challenge of putting together a meal with limited ingredients, rather than dining at one of the few restaurants on the island. It’s basically a daily Top Chef challenge. Carl has gone deep-sea fishing a couple of times, bringing home a plastic bag of fresh tuna. We’ve grilled it simply, we marinated it in teriyaki sauce, and in the height of indulgence, Carl grilled the rest up and made the best tuna salad ever.

I scored some tomatoes and basil from Tauono’s, a garden market and café on the island owned by Sonja, an Austrian woman. There’s little to no dairy on Aitutaki because all the foodstuffs come over on container ships and dairy wouldn’t fare well. There are a few goats tied to palm trees but otherwise the only livestock on the island are pigs and free-range chickens who roam the beaches and cockadoodledoo all hours of the day and night. Anyway, I sliced those tomatoes, chopped some basil, drizzled olive oil and balsamic over the plate, sprinkled Italian seasoning, and had the healthiest “Caprese” salad in a 2,000-mile radius. Who needs fresh mozzarella?

Black Jack, the captain who takes Carl fishing, gave him a haunch of pork, hoof still attached. We popped it in the oven and roasted it low and slow, hoof poking out of the roasting pan. When that was done, Carl shredded it and made pulled pork. I took an eggplant I found at Sonja’s, diced it in large chunks and roasted it in a bit of the pork drippings. I diced a starfruit, added lime, red onion, and salt to make an island salsa. There was a milestone birthday celebration going on down the beach but the real party that night was in my mouth.

I feel like a French woman, letting the day’s offerings (as limited as they may be here) dictate the meal. But actually, maybe I’m just becoming an islander. I’m off to the store to see if I can get a red pepper (called capsicum here) before they run out. Maybe I can roast that with another eggplant tonight. I’m already thinking about dinner and it’s not even lunchtime yet. But at least I’m not panicked about it.

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Dispatches from an unwilling wild woman: Going feral under protest

I forgot my tweezers.

This sounds like a minor to non-existent problem. But if you know me at all, you’ll get why this is causing me no small measure of agita.

Originally used to pluck a stray eyebrow, my Tweezermans have become a trusted partner in my fight against whiskers, nose hair, and middle age. As I march toward 50, my body is starting to betray me. It’s particularly painful because it’s been so good to me for decades—only a few gray hairs poke out through my brunette dye job. My skin, thanks to hats, sunscreen, meticulous skincare, and some strange deal with the devil I’m unaware of, takes a decade off my appearance. My body is pretty much the same shape, give or take 15 pounds, that it’s been since my 20s.

But I’ve been waging a daily war against facial hair in all forms for quite some time. I’ll be washing my face in the shower when I feel the beginnings of a stiff chin whisker. In front of a steamy mirror, I hunt and peck until I gain purchase with the slanted point of my tweezers. Muttering to myself like Jack to Rose as he freezes in the mid-Atlantic, “never let go, never let go.” If I lose my hold on the whisker nubbin or break it off, it will take another day or two to pinpoint it between my tweezers.

I don’t have crazy nose hair but over time, tiny black strands have started to creep out like sentient beings looking for escape from my dim nasal cave. Those are a bitch to pluck, but at least I can see them.

The biggest problem these days, however, is my mustache. I’ve never really had to bleach or wax my lip because the hair was light and sparse. Not so much any more. Darker hairs have sprouted among the light fur that is coming in fast and making me furious. I do a daily check, tweezers in hand, to ferret out the biggest offenders. About once a week, I try to take out a lot of the lighter peach fuzz so I don’t look like a 13-year-old boy trying to grow his first ’stache. I stopped waxing a while back because I got a red rash and little white bumps all along my upper lip after the hair was ripped off my face. With my tweezers, I can control my pain and the aftermath.

This brings us to now. I’m on a four-week workcation with my bushy eyebrowed partner (another reason for the tweezers) on a remote island in the South Pacific. A week in, a screw came out, dislodging one of the temples on my prescription sunglasses. After panicking for a day, I put a paper clip through the tiny holes and temporarily fixed the problem. But I haven’t been able to find a lifehack for the tweezers.

I’ve thought around the problem, trying to Macgyver something. My partner pulls at his stray eyebrows like someone afflicted with trichotillomania. Nothing found in nature will dislodge my hair, however. None of the kitchen utensils are delicate enough to do the job. I wondered if the clip on my pen could clamp down on the biggest offenders but the angles are all wrong. Maybe nail clippers could mow down my mustache.

We joke that we’re going feral, but secretly I don’t find it that funny. I find it slightly mortifying. I embrace the wild woman within me, but don’t want to look like a savage on the surface. I planned on letting my hair go on the trip, knowing a color and cut would get trashed by the sun and watersports, and scheduled an appointment for the week I return home. I stopped wearing makeup here except for a little CC cream with SPF on my cheeks because everything just slides off in the humidity. But the hoary hairy signposts on my face suggest not acceptance of aging, but of a surrender. Vacation is a time for relaxing so I guess that means relaxing my beauty standards and giving myself over to the experience. But I’m not ready to wave the white flag just yet.

The rejuvenating power of the interview

One of the bennies from my Seattle Times column gig is that it has led to other work. I was able to pitch some story ideas to AARP for their work/career section and two of them turned into actual assignments.

I love stories that involve several interviews and consequently varying points of view and advice. An article, which is already outlined, takes on a new shape that’s guided by each new person I interview. First up was a story on how Boomers and Gen Xers can communicate effectively with Millennials in the workplace. I was astounded by how many people wanted to weigh in the subject and in a positive way. The next story was on how to turn your love of travel into an encore career or part-time gig. I had been inspired by Ruby Montana, who now runs a kitschy motor lodge in Palm Springs, and Margaret Manning, who runs a website for women 60 and older from her home in Switzerland. Again, many people generously agreed to share their experience and advice.

Now, energized by these assignments, it’s back to the drawing board with a new secret book project, more freelance articles and publishing consulting. As Ruby Montana might say, Giddyup!

The pussyhat activist

When it comes to conflict, I’m a bit of a pussy.

I am ashamed to say I have only participated in one march, a huge pro-choice march in the early 90s in Washington, DC. While I talk a good game and post articles on Facebook in a furious indignation, the truth is that I’ve let others do the heavy lifting. My blog and subsequent books, Things I Want to Punch in the Face, took aim at the small things in life that chap my hide. I can go after mimes and man buns and mixologists, the truth is that I skirt around the more divisive and serious issues that I believe in, like gun control and reproductive rights and misogyny and climate change and Black Lives Matter, because I have never felt confident enough to argue my point to the metaphorical death. I didn’t grow up in a family or culture that invited spirited debate. We scurried away from any topics that were unpleasant, which meant religion, politics, and money were off limits at the dinner table.

Then along came Donald Trump. I’d say he’s a joke of a human being but the threat he presents is anything but funny. And after decades of taking my rights and freedoms and citizenship for granted, I’ve finally woke. I’ve been a passive American because more often than not, I’ve felt that others were taking care of business on my behalf. Now, I’ve come to realize that citizenship is indeed a responsibility that requires more action than posting New York Times and Atlantic pieces into the echo chamber of my social networks.

It requires more than knitting pussyhats. But for me, that was a start. Stitches have flown off my knitting needles in the past week, as I’ve knocked out 10 in a fever dream. I’ve sent them to all corners of the country and passed them out among my friends. Some women have commented that they think the hats are silly and the pink color too weak to represent our collective rage. But for me, that’s not the point. For me, the process of knitting has been powerful and a way for me to channel and transform my feelings into action. On 9/11, I was living in Philadelphia. Unsure of what was happening and who was still at risk, I walked the 20 blocks from my office to my home, curled up into a fetal position, and then took out my needles. Over the next several days, a sweater emerged from my needles, a deep blue to match the depths of my grief. This past week, I’ve knit resilience and resolve and sisterhood into each hat, reclaiming pink as a badass power color. I have done this so that when I look around tomorrow at the sea of pink hats and lock arms with friends and strangers alike, I will feel myself a vital if small part of this great nation.

So this is why I march tomorrow, and why I will continue to stand up and rise up. We have to protect the rights that have been hard won by those who came before and we have to protect each other. I’m ready to put on my pussyhat and put some skin in the game.

I’m a columnist for The Seattle Times!

mastheadI’m super excited, y’all. I just started writing a jobs column for The Seattle Times! I’ll be writing about how to navigate the gig economy, workplace trends and culture, that sort of thing. And while I may have to do some research to stay current, I do know a thing or two. I’ve been a freelancer for a loonnnnggg time, which is remarkable for several reasons.

But the main reason is that I’m a wuss. Running your own business is not for the faint of heart. I’m risk-adverse so quitting a full-time position as a publishing executive was not exactly an easy decision. On the side, I had co-authored a New York Times best-seller, even winding up on the Today Show. I should have been as cocky as a Kardashian. But I was trembling in my high-heeled boots. Working in publishing, I had a deep Rolodex (yep, I just dated myself right there) and lined up four gigs writing work-for-hire (i.e., non-royalty) manuscripts for various book publishers and packagers. I figured that money would sustain me for a while and if not, I could find another FTE job in publishing.

That was fifteen years ago.

I somehow made it work. Since then, I’ve had some lean times and some shit jobs. I’ve written thousands of product descriptions, I’ve given lectures at colleges around the country to sometimes-empty auditoriums, I went without a car for years and health insurance for months. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours writing, often at a regressive hourly rate. Living the dream sometimes means getting creative, staying hungry, and remaining humble. I may be a New York Times-bestselling author, but I still have to figure out how to make rent.

But on the flip side, I became nimble. I figured out my personal brand and built a solid author platform. I’ve developed a network both broad and deep (which is how I nabbed The Seattle Times gig). And I’m bringing all that juicy experience to the table to talk about thriving in the current economy.

My first column covers the often pesky but always absurd issue of bizspeak. Because I want to help, I share my tips for how to get granular on your industry’s vernacular and skill up in no time. You can read the column here.

Secret of a skincare junkie: Brynn Strader at Jill Bucy Skincare

I thought I’d write some posts about my favorite people, places, and things. And because I’m vain, I thought I’d talk about my skin and who helps me keeping it looking so youthful. I’ve never had fillers or Botox and yet I’m consistently mistaken for someone way younger than 47. Part of my secret is that I never go outside. Here’s the rest of the story:

I’m a skincare junkie. I used to happily play the beauty guinea pig for Allure magazine, acting as their Seattle reporter. I got spray-tanned in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. By the time I walked back to my car, the drenched cuffs of my jeans had wiped away the tanner so while the rest of my bits and pieces were sunkissed, my ankles were chalky white. I got bikini-waxed in the winter, I went to a celebrated stylist to have my hair colored…after I had just paid for a single process the week before.

I loved it all.

But I held a special place in my heart for facials. With each new esthetician, I believed I’d find the answer to unblemished, radiant, youthful skin. When I went to Jill Bucy Skincare for the first time, it was on assignment for Allure.

That was six years ago and I’m still hooked on their French facials and Biologique Recherche products and treatments. Protecting the skin and building it up is a distinctly European philosophy, exotic and strange in the face of a lifetime of hearing that I should scrub, scrub, scrub. Exfoliate. Use Retinol. Get glycolic peels. All of this had aggravated my rosacea and resulted in contact dermatitis. I backed away from foaming cleansers, abrasive exfoliants, and products front-loaded with parabens and scent. My skin cleared up during that first facial with Jill and I became a loyal devotee.

brynnJill herself has moved on but I’m still in excellent hands. I just visited Brynn Strader (more on her here) for a treatment, and found myself needing to share the experience.

Let me walk you through the French facial (I know, that sounds dirty), customized for my sensitive, middle-aged skin:

Brynn started by cleansing my skin with Lait VIP O2, a gentle cleansing milk for my delicate skin, massaging it onto my face and neck. Yum.

She followed it with BR’s famous P50, a watery liquid that balances the pH level of the skin, moisturizes, and exfoliates. It really is unlike any other product and I use it twice a day, swiping it on my face, neck, décolletage, and back of my hands. Applied with a thin cotton pad, Brynn swirled it over my skin until it tingled. In a good way.

Next up was Lotion MC 110. Similar in texture to P50, it further exfoliates and tones the skin.

I was sufficiently prepped for the next step. Eschewing steam and extractions, both of which would aggravate my skin’s redness, she applied Soin Lissant to one half of my face. Soin Lissant is a combination of lotion and powder, mixed to a client’s skin, and rich in Omega 3 and hyaluronic acid. It provided some slick so that Brynn could “restructure” my skin and the muscles beneath with a stimulating, lifting treatment. I can only describe it as a quick, pulsing massage that moved from the neck upward. It rocked.

Between the P50, the Soin Lissant treatment, and Brynn’s skilled hands, my skin was invigorated.

The rest of my body, however, was beyond relaxed. I was so checked out that when she applied the Visolastine Masque to the left side of my face, I fell into a waking sleep. In my dream state, I believed her to be my boyfriend, and I talked to her and answered nonexistent questions, while she repeated the treatment on the right side of my face.

Bless her heart, she didn’t bat an eye. She just proceeded to give me a hand and arm massage before removing the masque with warm compresses, and applying finishing serums and creams.

To bring me back to life, perhaps, Brynn brought out what looked like two metal porkchops. Called Cryo-Sticks, they were kept in the refrigerator until my treatment. She gently applied them to the rosacea on my cheeks, reducing the skin temperature and limiting vasodilation. And yes, the sticks were bracingly cold. I thought they might stick to my skin, the way the kid’s tongue was glued to a frozen flagpole in A Christmas Story. Thankfully, they didn’t stick but the results did. When I looked in the mirror later, my complexion was even and my cheeks looked like I had put on foundation or CC cream because the redness was at an all-time low. Instead of looking like rosacea, it just looked like I had a natural glow. Genius.

The beauty of Brynn is her commitment to treating each client individually, discovering how best to target different skincare issues. “I like seeing a client come in and knowing that I can help her to relax, even temporarily. I enjoy having a one-on-one connection and focusing exclusively on a client’s specific needs.”

If you’ve haven’t been in for a facial for a while, or if your skin feels dull, or if you feel that nothing you try improves your skin, I’d urge you to give Brynn and a Classic French Facial a try. Treatments start at $100 and go up, depending on your customized treatments, and I can’t recommend them enough. Jill Bucy Skincare changed my entire attitude around skincare, which was no small feat, considering that I was weened on beauty magazines and the beauty industry. The results speak for themselves. This is what 47 looks like!

Saying no to New Year’s resolutions

66270141New Year’s resolutions. Whatever.

Maybe I am just too content or complacent this year, but for whatever reason, I’m kicking New Year’s resolutions to the curb along with the brittle remains of my Christmas tree.

Here’s the deal: Why should I wait until New Year’s Day to make resolutions—grand, sweeping proclamations about what I’m going to do (or not do) in the coming year? I work on myself in small ways every day because I’m playing the long game, which continues long after a New Year’s resolution falls by the wayside, usually around MLK Day or my period, whichever comes first.

I have a great support network. I work with a leadership coach who keeps me accountable or at least aware of my ongoing resolutions: write more, eat cleaner, move my body, be kinder and more compassionate, work smarter, earn more, spend wisely, allow myself to enjoy being in love. These are goals I aspire to on a daily basis.

But I don’t think of them as resolutions, because that’s setting me up to fail. Of course I will break resolutions. Life isn’t absolute. Life gets in the way. Things come up. A lobster mac and cheese crosses my path. It’s too cold to go for a run. I cannot live without owning that vintage Whiting & Davis disco bib necklace. Oh yes, it will be mine.

I have resolved to let “resolutions” go gently into that good night and replace them with kindness toward myself and my sometimes slow but persistent progress.

That’s a resolution I can keep.

Merging lives, merging Christmas ornaments: A love life in review

12375314_10156316791195072_6745333156560058817_oI have never read the New York Times’ Modern Love columns for the same reason I avoid real estate flyers in resort towns: they aren’t for me. I’ve never been able to take the flight of fancy needed to read about others’ love stories or dream houses.

I was so far away from a robust love life or bank account that reading stories of love or listings of vacation homes made me sad and resentful. Even stories of heartbreak or failed relationships elicited a response of, “Hey, at least they experienced love before it all went to shit. At least they had a relationship.”

I was 46 and had never gotten out of the gate.

Sure, I had been in relationships here and there. I was in a six-plus-year relationship in my twenties. But it was mostly long distance and when I finally moved cross-country to be with my boyfriend, we decided to live separately but within walking distance of each other’s apartment.

In retrospect, that was a bit fucked up.

But truth be told, deep down I knew he wasn’t “the one.” I loved him but I was laissez-faire about the whole situation, which should have told me something long before I was six years into it.

My thirties and the first half of my forties are a blur of Nerve, Match and OK Cupid first dates that didn’t lead anywhere but to a closed door and closed heart. I had a yearlong booty-call with a depressed, possibly alcoholic academic. That was a meager Band-Aid on my painful love life. Then there was the musician-electrician, a lumbersexual who broke things off with me via Facebook IM, preferring to get back together with his much-younger, former drug addicted ex-girlfriend.

That left me licking my wounds for years.

Then Carl—my unicorn, my white whale—appeared. All those lonely years melted away into a vague memory in the face of our love.

We’ve been together just over a year and have been marking relationship milestones: moving in together, two-week vacation, meeting the family, wearing matching Halloween costumes, hosting Thanksgiving, one-year anniversary…

That brings me to our Christmas tree. After a quick trip to Home Depot, we erected our 7–8 foot Noble Fir in the living room next to the fireplace for what was sure to be a welcoming, cozy tableau. We brushed off dead needles and filled the tree stand with water, and then Carl left me alone to string colored LED lights and strands of bubble lights with the strategery that comes from mild OCD.

Then came the ornaments.

There was a enormous Santa-sized buttload of them. Carl had accumulated an impressive collection over the years, adding to his treasured retro ornaments, handmade by his mother and spectacular in their number and craftsmanship.

As he laid out his assorted angels, Santas, and snowflakes, I opened my own bin, rediscovering my beauties, nestled in tissue and shredded paper. In addition to the hipster raccoon bandits that look like extras in a Wes Anderson film, I pulled out my tiny glass birds with the tinsel tailfeathers that clip to branches.

Negotiation ensued. Collectively, there were just too many ornaments for our tree. Carl suggested another tree for upstairs but the thought of going back to Home Depot hurt my head. My OCD flared with a plan: we would start with our A-list ornaments and work our way down to the filler nutcrackers and shot-in-the-ass snowmen. When the tree reached maximum ornament capacity, we’d pull the plug and ship the crappy leftovers to the island of misfit ornaments to think about what they’d done. In other words, back into the bin for another year. Thankfully, Carl agreed and we proceeded to integrate our ornaments with the grace and communication with which we’ve integrated our lives.

Who knows, maybe we’ll get two trees next year to accommodate the full lives we’ve lived separately, and the ornaments we’ve picked up along the way. But for this year, we came together, merging our lives, belongings and yes, even our Christmas ornaments.

Now that I’ve done the unimaginable and met the love of my life—at 46, no less!—I may just resolve to read a Modern Love column or two in the new year. I think I may even write one.

Love in the Time of Cranberry

WP_20151126_001Thanksgiving is upon us, and I can’t wait. And for once, it’s not just about the stuffing.

For many years, I’ve eschewed traveling to the Midwest to visit family, instead opting for a “Friendsgiving.” When I lived on the East Coast, I’d fly to San Francisco or train to Washington DC to tuck into turkey with loved ones. Now living in Seattle, I have gone stag to a pal’s home every year, passing the bread basket to her mom and now her two daughters while her husband refills my wine glass.

And we, like many others, go around the table and say what we are grateful for. On that day, like every other day, I am thankful for my tribe of friends, a curated family of people who have my back even though we don’t share DNA. I am thankful that I always have a place at the table.

But don’t get it twisted: being perpetually single has its advantages, but it can suck Santa’s ass during the holidays. November and December—let’s not even get into New Year’s Eve—can be achingly lonely. Wrapping gifts or trimming the tree by myself, receiving cheery family photo Christmas cards from “The Smiths” or “The Hamlins,” baking desserts to take to someone else’s gathering, opening gifts from distant relatives on Christmas morning alone in front of the tree.

Taken on their own, these things are lovely but when viewed together, it’s a feat that any single person can stave off melancholy during the holidays. I once or twice thought about foregoing Thanksgiving or a Christmas tree, but I realized I needed to manage any possible depression or self-pity that could sprout in an empty apartment like a weed in a vacant lot. I haven’t always been completely successful, but I have been able to keep things in perspective and weather the few bad days.

This year, however, the game has changed. At 47, I’m no longer flying solo. I’m deeply in love and celebrating a year under my belt and under the covers with the man of my dreams.

This year, I—we—are hosting. I’m part of a we! I get to return the favor, inviting my radiant pastiche of a family into our home, a toasty fire in the fireplace and roasted turkey on an heirloom platter, handed down through generations to land on our dining room table. Hosting Thanksgiving feels like a rite of passage, up there with getting your first car or getting married.

And along with that, I have additional things to be grateful for.

Carl and I are integrating into each other’s lives. We’ve met each other’s friends and extended families. We’ve merged the Venn diagrams that were our solo social circles. We are hosting friends who we now both know and love.

While I am child-free, I was still a package deal and I wake up every morning sandwiched between my man and my cat. My heart turns as mushy as canned cranberry jelly when Carl makes up songs about Frida or roughhouses with her. I think she missed a man’s touch as well, seeing the way she purrs and preens for him, her white belly exposed for maximum rubs.

I’m also thankful that I’m my own person. Those decades of being a third wheel forced me to get comfortable in my own skin. I was generally okay with celebrating the holidays solo, but this time of year can trigger issues for the best of us, regardless of our relationship status. The holidays—full of people, parties, and enforced gaiety—can be achingly lonely. I’ve learned how to take care of myself, even though now I’m fortunate enough to have someone else to share the load.

Come Thursday, I’ll be refilling all my friends’ wine glasses. As for me, mine is already full.