Relating to Jonah

Earlier this summer, Tyler and I realized we wouldn’t be able to take a vacation this year, so we planned a weekend getaway to Atlanta instead for this past weekend.

On Saturday, after checking into our hotel, we went to a Braves game. It was really fun. We had great seats, and Tyler caught a practice ball thrown into the stands by a Marlins player. However, it was also hot as Hades. I sweated through every single thing I was wearing. I’m sure all of us in the outfield smelled heavenly. I was immensely thankful for my hat and sunglasses and sunscreen, but they could only do so much in the face of hours in that relentless, direct sunlight.

A baby at his first baseball game in the row behind us cried or fussed much of the game, and no one got upset with him. He was the voice of the people. Sing it, kid, I thought more than once, as well as, Take him home, people! He’s miserable and he doesn’t understand why. At least the rest of us chose to be there.

Twice during the 3-hour game we were blessed by the cover of a cloud that cast us all in shade. Spontaneous applause broke out in the stands around us in these moments, along with calls of “thank you” to the sky and more than one relieved, “Yes” and “Thank God.” By the time the second, larger cloud arrived, Tyler and I had already drank three bottles of water and ate two frozen lemonades between us. We enjoyed the game, but in the shade of that cloud we could focus on the game so much better, enjoy ourselves so much more, and be more generous with the people around us. 

It reminded me of the story of Jonah—not the large fish story, the plant one. After the fish situation, after Jonah went to Nineveh and preached God’s message as God has instructed, Jonah, who hated the people of Nineveh, withdrew from the city to see if God would save them from destruction or not. The people had repented in response to Jonah’s very short sermon on the matter, and Jonah was thoroughly unhappy about it. He hated the Ninevites. 

As Jonah sat in the sand waiting to see what would happen, it got hot. Miserably hot. And Jonah was miserable. A plant’s leaf opened up, giving Jonah shade and relief. He was so grateful for that leaf. And when it died overnight, Jonah was so angry and miserable again that he wanted to die all over again (4:8). God asked him if he was right to be angry about the leaf. After all, he hadn’t done anything to grow the leaf. And it’s a leaf, which Jonah knows doesn’t last. Jonah replied that he is right to be angry, thank-you-very-much. He’s even angry enough to want die (4:9).

I related to Jonah in that cloud’s shade in a way I never had before. I got his anger, his petulance. It was almost comical how much relief that one cloud brought, how used to it I became as I watched the action on the field, waiting for a homer that may or may not ever come our way. I felt affection for that cloud. I knew it’d go away eventually, but I hoped (unreasonably) that it would outlast my need to stay in my seat. It brought spontaneous expressions of gratitude from the miserable people around me, many of them half-drunk, plus that baby in his wide-brimmed hat whose his parents were trying to create a good memory. This might have been the first normal-feeling thing they’d done in months, and they worked hard with ice packs and hand-held fans and frozen treats and a cartoon to keep their baby content. 

A friend who recently visited Israel told me she better understood the Israelites’ desire to return to slavery in Egypt rather than stay in the desert. After she’d walked in a desert in that region for 45 minutes, she was ready to accept just about any terms to get out of that oppressive heat and sun. Imagining days and weeks of that, she assured me she’d be ready to return to Egypt, too. 

When the larger cloud passed on and revealed us to the sun for the final time, we still had a couple of innings to go. The sun seemed more oppressive than it had before the cloud shielded us for that hour or so. I was tired, feeling gross, and increasingly unable to concentrate on the game. All I had to do was sit there and make sure I didn’t get hit with by a ball. I just had to wait for it to be over and to try not to complain and so dampen the good experience for Tyler. He too was miserably hot, of course, but he loves baseball and this was a treat for both of us, but primarily for him. Still, I wondered if I’d make it. And in the back of my mind I knew that the bathroom was air conditioned.

Okay, God, I thought, eying the standings and trying estimate how much longer the game would last, I was judgey about Jonah before. But I get it now. I’m sorry. Jonah had a lot of problems, including being racist, but the combination of his stressful travel (the ship in the storm, then fish travel, then walking), being among people he considered his enemies, and sitting in the desert heat and sun probably tore down his walls really effectively. I knew the Georgia heat was tearing down mine.

God used the shading leaf, and specifically its absence, to show Jonah how out of proportion his angry and hatred toward the people of Nineveh was. Jonah grieved the loss of a leaf but not the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of people. He felt affinity for a leaf, as I had for the cloud, and it’s okay to be spontaneously grateful for part of God’s creation. But that affection should never overshadow (ahem) feelings of sympathy and caring for actual people. Every person, even those you consider to be enemies, are made in the image of God. And since Jonah couldn’t muster that baseline level of human compassion, God reminded Jonah that there were “also many animals” in Nineveh (4:11). Life should be valued, and how much more valuable should animals be to plants, and people to animals? God seemed to be saying, “If you can’t care about the people, can you at least care about their livestock? Think of the cows, Jonah!”

That night, after the game ended and we each took a long shower in the hotel room, we were back out to the Battery to find a restaurant for dinner. When I finally got my catfish fajitas after a long but worthwhile wait at El Felix, I felt miserable all over again. This fish had died so I could eat it, but I had stuffed myself too full of chips and queso. And because we were staying the night in a hotel, we didn’t have the means or opportunity to save the 2/3 of the delicious filet I couldn’t eat. Many hands had worked to get this incredible fish to me, but my urgency to satiate my hunger with chips and queso had resulted in waste. Waste for the life of that fish, and the work of so many people. Yes we paid money for our dinner, but those efforts and the life of this fish couldn’t be bought back. 

I thought again about God’s entreaty for Jonah to care for the animals and the 120,000 people in Nineveh who God wished to save. I’m sure I’m stretching things a bit, but it all worked together in my head that night and I have yet to shake it: Jonah with the people, the leaf, the cows; me with the people at the game, the cloud, the fish. 

3 Items to Pack for College

As I walked through Kohl’s this weekend, I found a section stuffed with back-to-school wares: colorful mirrors, fuzzy pillows, bright shower caddies. Already! I started thinking again about the two high school graduates who I wrote to earlier this summer, the journey they’ll take, and when they’ll walk aisles like these looking for things they’ll need. As I hurried toward my kitchenware destination, I thought about what purchases the summer before my freshman year of college best served me. What turned out to not just be useful, but unexpectedly vital in my college and post-college life?

I feel like I should say “pack your intellectual curiosity,” and that’s definitely important. But I’m thinking more tangibly. If you’re assembling a going-to-college kit, you likely won’t forget towels or a new shower curtain or a laundry hamper, and once you get there you’ll realize you need more spoons and an extension cord. Give it enough time, and probably wish you packed these too:

1. Flashlight 

The one on your phone will work until the power’s been out all afternoon and you need to save your phone’s battery so your alarm will get you up for class in the morning. Or until you need something to lay on the sink while you use to the window-less bathroom. The flashlight, ideally, will be tactical, with grooves and ridges around the light in case you ever need to break a window or figure out which end not to point at your face when you wake to heavy darkness in the middle of the night. During hurricane season, I’d trade my kingdom for a battery-operated camping lantern and phone charging pack. But for shorter outages, the main thing I need is a handy flashlight.

2. Screwdriver

This should at least have an interchangeable head to accommodate Philips (cross-haired) and flathead screws. It doesn’t need to be fancy (ratcheting, 11-in-1, in the shape of a crab). I’ve been the only person on my hall who could produce a screwdriver; why it was needed has slipped my mind, but I remember being widely applauded for it. I’ve also been the only person in my house for the weekend, desperately trying to stop the old-school smoke alarm from screaming. I’m all for power tools, but a basic screwdriver is lightweight, portable, and appropriate for just about any situation. 

3. Duct Tape 

This doesn’t have to be name brand or even grey. But it’s kept my bumper from falling off, kept a milk carton from leaking in my trunk, kept my trunk from leaking in the rain, and kept my bookshelves from completely collapsing. You feel like you’re prepared for anything with a roll of duct tape. And, with a little creativity, you’re prepared for more than you think you are.

Happy shopping!

We’re Moving!

I haven’t posted in a couple weeks, but thankfully it’s not because I haven’t been writing. In the past month, I’ve written about 10,000 words on two writing projects, which I’m hesitant to even talk about because I’m afraid it’ll shrivel up and die. Projects can be fragile things until they’ve grown up enough to survive opening their eyes, standing on their own legs, being seen. 

During this time, Tyler and I were also looking for a house. And just this past weekend, our offer on a house was accepted. The next month will be busy as we proceed with due diligence inspections, possible further negotiations, and packing. We wanted to start this process early so we’d have plenty of time to find out what we like and what we don’t, as well as a new home, before out apartment’s lease is up at the end of the summer. We didn’t expect to find a house we love our very first day viewing houses. We felt so immediately comfortable in every room. We love how the dining room, living room, and kitchen flow into one another. We love that, though the house is big, it feels cozy and inviting and warm. Visiting a second time not quite a week later, we were ready to offer. 

We’re learning a lot about the home buying process and are preparing our lives and budgets for this big change. Even if something happens and this particular house falls through, this is something we want to do this summer. We’ve started packing up our nonessentials. I’m stockpiling recipes and asking about Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. I’ve been researching bookshelves and rugs and decorations we currently lack, and which we’ll probably buy over time, since we currently only have enough furniture to fill a one-bedroom apartment, not a four-bedroom house. 

I’m making lists of cleaning supplies we’ll need and all the places I’ll need to call to have our address changed. I’ve downloaded a browser extension that shows me if the books I’m looking at online are available at my local library (to cut down on my book purchasing). We’ve already planned a small, weekend vacation and have agreed that that’ll be it for a while. We’re also planning to go back to a weekly game night instead of the weekly movie night (although we’ve seen some fantastic movies this summer). 

This will be my second move in less than a year and Tyler’s first in three years. It’ll be our first time moving together, and it won’t be particularly gradual. Last year, every time I went to Tyler’s apartment I brought something—a box of scarves or candles or mugs or something—to move. This time, we’ll both be moving, and will likely do so over the course of a weekend or a week. 

We’re excited. We’re busy. We’re a little overwhelmed. My writing will definitely suffer during this time. I’ll try to keep up the blog, but if I post erratically, you’ll have an idea why. Thanks for hanging in there. 

Another Katie

Sometimes I like to play a game. When I see something I really like but would not buy, be it a necklace or a wedding dress or a piece of furniture, I like to imagine the version of Katie who would buy it. After all, I do like it. With different life experiences, jobs, and relationships, I might have become a Katie who would buy it. 

For example, I saw this sofa in an Amazon ad on Insta last week. It only has one rating (and it’s one star), but I love the rainbow buttons, the smooth dark wood softening the black upholstery. I love the unique, enveloping shape. I imagine it in a number of spaces, but none of them resemble the home I currently have. I also don’t think that Tyler would go for it, both for the buttons and the black fabric and the rather thin-looking cushion.

So what sort of Katie would buy it?

She has a long entryway, rising to a sweeping curved staircase. She likes to restore old homes, and bought this one in the historic district as a 5-year renovation project. The crystal chandelier above the front door, visible in a half-moon window from the street out front, came with the house and she recently put it back up after cleaning it. The wood floors are original to the house, though she’s replaced more than a few boards. This Katie wants a fun piece where she can put on her shoes and lay her guests’ coats, while keeping the entryway from feeling too stuffy.  She likes that the buttons can pull in any accent color, so it looks fine next to the plethora of bags and coats she has hanging from the row of mildly tarnished hooks by the door. Beneath, she tucks her two favorite pairs of flats and her paint-spattered Keds.

Is there a version of you that’d buy this sofa? If so, what sort of person are they?

Dear Grad

I had the opportunity this year to write cards congratulating two recent high school graduates and wishing them well on their coming college adventures. The following is a longer version of my messages to them.

Dear Grad,

Congratulations on your graduation. I almost added “from high school” but that feels inadequate. You closed the book on at least 14 years of mandatory, highly regulated schooling, much of which was in subjects you had little interest in and under people you may not have liked or respected. And you got through it. You completed your senior year while also making plans, leaping through flaming hoops, and establishing where you’ll be next. This is the part that begins to feel like adulthood, staying on top of what you’re doing while preparing to move somewhere else. Keeping your grades up and working. Working and getting a new job. Working and moving and making new friends. Working and planning a wedding and marriage. Working and raising a new puppy. You’ll have a lot of “working and” from now on. And you handled your first season of it successfully. Congratulations.

The person you’ll grow into in college and beyond will forever be changing. Sooner or later, you’ll challenge your own ideas of who you are and what you want. You might wake up one day and know in your core that your favorite color is no longer purple, that you love Brussel sprouts, that you’re brave or capable where you didn’t think so before. You’ll find all kinds of new activities you like and you’ll leave behind many others. One of the best parts of what’s to come is all the opportunities to just try things. Try that restaurant. Try that movie. Try that hobby. Try that trip. Try that sport. Your parents and the people who have known you practically from diapers aren’t telling you “that’s not you.” Don’t you dare do it to yourself. As long as it isn’t hurting you or anyone else (that’s my adulthood-required caveat), give new things a try.

When I was in the summer you’re in, planning for my college years and making lists and hiding my fears and enjoying every home cooked meal like I was moving to Mars instead of Georgia, I loved picking out things for my new room and my new life. I had choices where I never had before, like in my color of towels. I got to pick out whatever shower curtain I wanted. I chose decorations and colors that felt full of possibilities, that could hold all the new life I’d paint on them. You’ll need a lot of practical things, like spatulas and screwdrivers and a new pair of shoes. The gift I’m including can be for those things. Or it can be for something that feels frivolous but is also life-giving, like a succulent or a bird-shaped USB or a fuzzy pillow. I hope your choice, whatever it is, will feel full of possibilities. Why not have red kitchen utensils? Why not pick a lamp that looks like Medusa’s hair? Why not try a different color bedspread? Why not get a Game of Thrones cutting board or a tape dispenser that looks like a cat? Pick something that feels like you. 

You don’t have to have everything figured out. You don’t have to be accomplished or ambitious or successful in everything. You won’t be. That’ll feel really freeing in a few years, even if it’s making you sweat right now. There’s as much or more to gain from learning who you don’t want to be, what you don’t want to do, as there is in finding something that suits you. And even if it suits you, you don’t have to stick to it. No one is going to stand over your shoulder and glare or try to guilt you about it, thank goodness. 

Who you are now would be amazed at who you’ll be in a year. But college can be really lonely at first, especially if you don’t have friends going there with you, or when your friends are making other friends faster than you seem to be. Give it 3 months. In 3 months, you’ll have people to go to dinner with and plans for your weekends.

You’ll be okay. You’re building yourself into a whole new person in a whole new world, and you’ll be fine.

Congratulations,
Katie

A Day Off Is Saving My Life

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

—Maya Angelou

Last year, I wrote about how poetry was saving my life. I put the question that sparked that post to myself this week and discovered that having a day off last Saturday made the biggest difference in my life. Prior to Mother’s Day, I’d traveled 3 weeks in a row. I was so tired. I was trying to recover from a cold. I was worn out. And as I looked around, I saw dishes piling in the sink, baseboards needing dusting, a tub needing scrubbing, and a mounting pile of laundry. Getting those things done would make me feel better, but they’d also leave me as physically exhausted as ever.  

So, on the first Saturday I’d had at home in a month, I sat down with my toast and reread passages of Aurora Rising, a book I’d recently read and loved. I washed my hair, then lay on the sofa with Tyler and watched a couple of shows on the science channel. I met my former roommate for lunch and then we went to see The Hustle. I ran a couple errands afterwards in the rain, both necessary for Mother’s Day the next day, and arrived home with my arms laden with bags. I dumped them all on the floor and fixed myself a bowl of ice cream. I enlisted Tyler’s help to wrap the presents for the next day. I checked on my plants. I dozed. After a frozen pizza dinner, I watched two Hallmark movies, then went to bed. 

I sometimes talk about being socially exhausted as being “peopled out.” Saying this to my former roommate once, she quickly offered to leave me be, but I answered, “You don’t count.” Of course, she counts as a person, but she isn’t someone who tires me out, whose presence drains me of energy. This puts her in company with only a couple other people in the world. I can want nothing to do with all of humanity and still be happy to be in her company. She still holds that position, but now Tyler’s there too, along with my best friend and my brother. My ideal day involves a lot of quiet time to myself, or in the company of those few people who I can fully, completely rest around. 

On my ideal day, I don’t have to cook or clean. I don’t have leave the house at all. I nap. I eat something sweet. I read in the sunshine. I watch something funny. That Saturday was pretty close to perfect. But a perfect day off, a day of true rest, doesn’t happen on its own. It has to be planned for and it must be guarded. 

When I plan a day off, I make sure I have food for all my meals. I accomplish early or push back every possible chore, phone call, and obligation. Even if I have just one thing to do, it can feel like a burden until it’s over. At the very least, that one email or phone call distracts me from following my proverbial bliss. I let go of my expectations about the dishes and my hopes for the baseboards. I carefully choose who I’ll let into my day so I can spend my time recharging. I do simple, quiet things and let the simple quiet restore me. I set myself up for success by lowered my expectations for myself and focusing on my word for the year: enjoy. When I’m tired, I sleep. When I’m hungry, I eat. I’m kind to myself. I let myself heal.

I’m well aware that many people don’t have a whole day to set aside to do only the things they most want to do. For many people, keeping themselves alive for one day, doing the bare minimum, requires much more than my day requires. If nothing else, keeping another human or two alive, plus a couple of animals, requires effort I don’t have to put forth right now. And for many people, reaching that bar is all they’re capable of on a typical day. Our ideal days might very, very different be based on our season in life and who’s around us. 

What does your ideal day look like? And if that seems like too much to think about, what would you do if you had a morning or afternoon off to just rest? 

Spring Reading, 2019

Last week, I mentioned that I’ve read 54 books so far this year. Since today is Tuesday (release day among the Big Four publishers) and there is an especially high number of books I’m excited about coming out today, I thought I’d share some book love. 

Here’s a list of excellent books I’ve read this spring:

And here are books I’m excited about but haven’t read yet, including four* being release today and one^ being released next week:

A Plant Named Vera

Last year, I thought only as far as our engagement (March). Then I thought only as far as our wedding (October). Then as far as Christmas (December). There was too much to do to think beyond those milestones. So, once 2018 was over and the dust had begun to settle, I looked around at my life, which looked so different than it had the year before, and made some intentional choices. 

I’d been crafting, wildly and compulsively, because I’d gone so long with the driving need to be constantly productive, to get everything done in time for the wedding, then in time for Christmas. So in January, I chose to set aside my crocheting and ornament making, to give myself room to do other things, and to slow down. In some ways I’ve merely exchanged wedding planning and crafting with reading (I’ve finished 54 books so far this year), but I also let myself just lay on the sofa or sit by the window. Doing so last year made my insides vibrate until I leapt out of my skin to DO something. 

In late January, I noticed that one of my succulents, which a coworker had given me last summer and I had repotted in a Bulbasaur planter, was growing a stem. I took such joy in checking on it daily, propping up the stem when it grew longer than its structure could support, checking its soil for moisture, touching its pink blossoms, nimbly removing the shriveled blooms before they fell onto the carpet. Then my orchid at work put forth 18 gorgeous blooms for the second time in a year. My other succulent, codename Hedgy, also hit a growth spurt. I felt so accomplished. After such a chaotic, survival-focused year, here was proof that I was doing something right. I was nurturing life. 

So I decided to nurture a little more. I bought a pretty watering can and a packet of zinnia seeds. Tyler bought me a hanging window box last fall, and once the last cold snap was over in March, I planted my seeds in a new bag of potting soil just so I could watch them grow. I read and read about zinnias, their planting and care and watering and deadheading. I spent one breezy Saturday morning doing the initial work and watering. I tend my zinnias twice a day, fretting over the leaves holed by bugs, and sitting with them until I almost believe they’re growing before my eyes. 

While acquainting myself with Lowe’s garden section this spring, I discovered their succulents and bought two. I would have bought more, but on that particular day I already had an 10 lb. bag of potting soil perched on one shoulder, steadied by one hand, and my other hand could only hold two little pots at a time. When I got home, I added them to my window with Bulba and Hedgy. 

Inspired, I ordered a llama mug with a drainage hole drilled into the bottom from Etsy and was gifted a small purple succulent from the Etsy seller. I planted the cabbage-shaped succulent and bought a large, flowering version of Hedgy for the llama mug, which I gave to my future sister-in-law as an engagement present.

In total, at work I tend 2 thriving vine plants and a blossoming orchid. At home, I tend 5 succulents and 6 zinnias. And I love it. I love everything about organizing their watering schedule (and researching to make sure I’m not overwatering them), wondering if this one isn’t a bit taller than it was a few days ago, and noting the dew on the zinnia’s leaves in the early mornings. I want to name my 3 newest succulents and get a couple more. I have a few more empty pots, after all. But I also don’t want to overdo it. I want to know I’m properly caring for the increased volume of plants before I take on more. In short, I want to be a responsible plant owner. 

All this dirt on my fingers reminds me of my late grandmother. I loved her porch because she had little pots of flowers everywhere. Tons of African violets, as well as many other kinds. I grew African violets with my mother as a child, and sometimes my grandmother would send a leaf she’d rooted home with me when I’d visit.

One summer not long before she died, I went to her house for a visit, and she enlisted my help in adding some annuals to a planter in the yard that she could no longer stoop to reach. She handed me her trowel to dig out each hole and supervised me step-by-step as she sat beside me on the shady patio. I love that memory. I love how we shared 10 minutes of something we both enjoyed, something I hadn’t done in a long time and that she was enjoying for one of the last times. 

I think of her as I pick up my watering can, touch the zinnia and vine leaves, hum in the sunlight, think about plant names, make a deal with my aunt to exchange plants next time we have lunch. I miss her, and I grieve that I’m unable to call her and tell her about them and send her photos. But it’s okay to miss her while enjoying something she would have enjoyed. It’s okay to wish I could have had one afternoon watching a Braves game with her and my husband, who loves the Braves. One inning, if I could have my grandfather there, too. A single at bat to have my baby cousin on the couch beside me.

Maybe one day I’ll name a plant after my grandmother. Something beautiful and stubborn and funny and full of secrets and occasionally prone to cursing. Vera is a good name for a person or plant like that.

NYC Stories

Okay. I’m fessing up and giving up. The gaming series I’ve been working on for over a month just isn’t coming together. So I’m abandoning it for now and getting back into my weekly routine. 

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of the media I’ve consumed, but primarily books, are get in NYC. And as a consequence, I haven’t been able to get NYC out of my head. All the strings have pulled together and I’m seeing NYC in every direction I look. Even in places where it may not be, like in the Netflix series Umbrella Academy.

I’m happy with this proliferation of New York in how I perceive my world because I love the city, but it’s odd. And distracting, like a song you can’t get out of your head until you listen to it a few times. Except, I can’t pop up for the afternoon to have lunch with a friend, sit on a bench on the Brooklyn Promenade looking at the skyline of lower Manhattan, or walk out of The Strand bookstore and up the street until my legs burn. 

So, I’ve put together a list of some books and movies set in NYC. I hope you find a few new ones to try. If you can, enjoy them next to a vase of tulips or with a scooped toasted bagel and cream cheese—anything that means NYC to you.

Books

  • The Sun Is Also a Star
  • Before the Fall
  • Once More We Saw Stars (forthcoming)
  • Shadowshaper
  • Burn Baby Burn
  • Another Brooklyn
  • Roomies
  • Isla and the Happily Ever After

Movies

  • The Sun Is Also a Star (forthcoming)
  • Isn’t it Romantic
  • Spiderman: Homecoming
  • The Intern
  • Maid in Manhattan
  • 27 Dresses
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • You’ve Got Mail

If there’s a book or movie set in NYC you think I’d like, comment and let me know!

Game Night

For the past couple of months, Tyler and I have kept our Thursdays open for a weekly game night. Valentine’s Day this year fell on a Thursday, but game night has become so important to us that we decided to go out for dinner on Tuesday so we could stay at home on Valentine’s Day proper and have game night.

Specifically, we’ve played 7 games in an 8-part campaign expansion of the board game Scythe, one of Tyler’s favorites. Think of it as Risk meets Catan meets Civilizations. You gain resources to develop your civilization, expand, and at times combat with the person or people you’re playing against on the way to 6 developmental achievements. This Thursday, we’ll play the final game in the campaign.

When Tyler first introduced me to Scythe, I didn’t enjoy it. There were too many moving parts, too many ways to play and pieces to consider. I developed strategies, lost handedly, adjusted those strategies, and still lost handedly. I found it stressful and overwhelming. I often felt like a child again, discouraged and powerless and frustrated. I felt like I was playing against my brother again, losing badly no matter what I did. But Tyler loves the game so much. And he gets a lot of enjoyment out of not only playing games but talking about the game once it’s over, analyzing how things went and why. So I let him teach me. And I would periodically agree to play again. I did eventually win a couple times, which helped me dread playing less. Eventually, we taught Scythe to my brother, and I quietly relished that I was more likely to beat him than not. But still, sometimes I got a map I couldn’t figure out how to play effectively. Sometimes I had an off day and repeatedly made avoidable mistakes. Sometimes I played a great game but Tyler still won.

And then Tyler got this 8-game expansion. We didn’t touch it for months. I avoided even looking at the box. Initially, I had a good excuse not to want to play—we were wedding planning and only about 30% of my brain could focus on anything that wasn’t wedding-related. And 30% of my brain was not enough to play Scythe. Then the wedding was over and we started trying to settle into out life together.

When Tyler brought up the expansion in January, asking if we could try to start playing it soon, I knew it was time. I didn’t know what to expect from it, but I expected the expansion would make gameplay harder, and I anticipated that I’d be slower to adapt than Tyler. Which meant I might lose every game. I might even hate it. But I knew Tyler would enjoy it. So I told Tyler we should set aside 1 day of the week to play so we wouldn’t drop off for months in between rounds, lose track of the story, and maybe never finish. I didn’t want to prolong what might end up being a frustrating, if not disheartening, experience for me. I also didn’t want to feel pressured to play several days in a row, especially if things weren’t going well for me. Tyler agreed, and after ordering pizza that first Thursday night, he opened the instructions with such boyish excitement I felt guilty that I’d put this off as long as I had.

In general, it’s gone really well. The guilt has not lasted. Unlike the usual gameplay, this one includes an overarching story. You’re playing in response to events in the story and to help control the trajectory of future games. Some rounds have special rules or goals. Along the way, we get to open boxes with new characters and figures, introducing new factors to the game. And it hasn’t been overwhelming. It’s been fun. And from sheer repetition, I’ve gotten far more comfortable playing.

Which is not to say that my guilt at putting off playing lasted long. I’ve only won 2 out of 7 games. My greatest challenge to date came the 4th week. At the end of game 3 the week before, Tyler read aloud the story and instructions for game 4, including a unique way the game would end. While setting up the next week, Tyler read aloud the instructions for that round again, but I started tuning him out without noticing and missed that critical info about the game’s end. I played the game like normal, trying to gain 6 achievements with enough coins that I’d end up with more than Tyler. I didn’t remember that key information until my last move before Tyler won. I hadn’t been in the right mindset for the game to begin with, and I’d made mistakes all the way along, but I’d thought I had time to make up for them. I didn’t realize Tyler was barreling toward ending the game in just a handful of moves.

My mood plummeted. I’ve lost before, sure. But it’s very different to lose because you played well but the other person’s just edged you out and to lose because you followed a strategy that would never have allowed you to win.

The last time I’d felt this frustrated and discouraged had been last summer whenTyler and I played a version of Ticket to Ride that I’d never played before. It was a bad mental health day for me, anyway, and I didn’t want to play anything new, but I’d agreed because Tyler wanted to play it and I didn’t want to be a killjoy. Although Tyler explained the particularities of that version’s scoring, and I paid attention, I lost sooo badly. I didn’t understand how the special rules should be leveraged to gain more points until I saw how Tyler used them to to earn three times the number of points I’d earned. I’d lost using the entirely wrong strategy. I would have had a hard time losing like that on a normal mental health day. But that day, it was devastating. And even though I’d agreed to play to make Tyler happy, by the end of the game neither one of us was happy. Which taught me to maintain firm boundaries when I’m not feeling well. Slight disappointment for someone else now is better than everyone being miserable later.

When I realized my mistake playing Scythe on that 5th game, I tried not to complain, not to cry (though I wanted to), not to do or say anything that would lessen Tyler’s enjoyment of the game or of winning. But I went from normal to miserable in an instant. He could tell how upset I was, but he didn’t understand why. I had to explain my sudden devastation somehow, so I quietly explained what had happened, then shut my mouth. I stayed silent as I tried to figure out how, with my last move, I could get the most points possible, since there was no way I could come close to winning. I didn’t say anything when, bewildered, Tyler reminded me that he’d read that critical part of the rules right before we started playing. And I didn’t say anything when, after I played my miserable last move, he tried to hug me. I stayed silent when he quietly started recounting and analyzing his moves in the game. And neither of us said anything when I left to clean up the kitchen so I didn’t have to watch him put the board away.

If left up to me, I would happily never have played Scythe again. At least, not for many months. I’m a sore loser in that way—the game doesn’t feel worth the frustration and dread. But I’m not playing this campaign because of me. I don’t play Scythe for my own enjoyment. I do tend to enjoy it, now, but I’d rather play Bananagrams or MarioKart. I play it for Tyler, because he enjoys it so much and because I love him. And despite that one week’s disaster (which was entirely and solely my fault), I played again the next week. I didn’t put it off for months. That’s the deal I made with myself at the beginning. Weekly game night until we finish, even when it isn’t fun. There’s no point dreading it because I’m going to play every Thursday. I’m not putting it off.

Ultimately, playing games with Tyler feels a lot like playing my brother. They are both more adept than I am at thinking four or five moves ahead and remembering the path they need to take. They notice the details I often miss that effect the best course of action. And they are both infuriatingly, earnestly confused when I make an illogical move. And their earnestness makes me feel unintelligent, which is very bad for my Hermione self.

I fully expect to ultimately lose this campaign. And it’s rough to know you’ve played 8 weeks in a row and you’ll almost certainly lose. But the time set aside to do something together has been really good for us. Yes, 8 weeks of Scythe required sacrifice and love on my part, but that time has ultimately been good for us. And that time will be good for us no matter the activity.

And when this campaign is over, I get to pick the next 8 Thursday night activities. We might play Bananagrams or watch Hallmark movies. We might go to a painting lesson. Activities that I’ll probably enjoy more than Tyler will. That’s what Tyler proposed after game 1, and it’s fair. But I do hope we’ll keep enjoying spending Thursday nights intentionally together.