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 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 Tyler probably didn’t

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.

Next week, I plan to launch a short series about my history and relationship with games, especially video games. When that’s finished, I’ll update about how our Thursday night tradition is progressing.

Memories of Toxic People

I’ve been thinking lately about toxic people. People whose presence, words, and influence are overall detrimental to you. Sometimes these people are family members. Sometimes they’re friends or coworkers or fellow students or volunteers. You don’t always get to “leave them behind,” as the Facebook memes say. You don’t always get to avoid them. And, looking back on the people who were toxic but are no longer in your life, it can be hard to know how to regard them. I find my thoughts and feelings can be overwhelmingly negative, but I’ve also noticed that negative feelings are more likely to come up again and hold onto my mood longer than positive feelings.

As a kid, I thought the greatest and healthiest revenge on the people who made me miserable would be to forget them entirely, deliberately. I got this largely from the movie “Ever After.” At the end of the Cinderella retelling, when Danielle (Drew Barrymore) is confronting her sinister stepmother (Angelica Huston), she doesn’t ridicule her or admonish her for all the terrible abuse she inflicted on Danielle. Instead, Danielle, now married to the prince and with a crown on her head, presumably with the power of life and death over her stepmother, says, “I want you to know that I will forget you after this moment, and never think of you again. But you, I am quite certain, will think about me every single day for the rest of your life.” And she ensures that her stepmother and one wicked stepsister will be made to work as servants for the rest of their lives, but won’t be harmed. The ending felt magnanimous to me. And wise. And sharp. “I will forget you…and never think of you again.”

I endeavored to do this for years. Once I was no longer at school with my childhood tormentors, I worked to forget them. And when I thought of them I’d draw a knife across the memory and send it back into the void of forgetfulness. Until a pair of them transferred to my new school. I refused to speak to them. Everyone else liked them. They didn’t know them the way I did, but what does that matter in the wheels of childhood social popularity?

We remained classmates throughout the rest of middle and high school. And in middle school, facing the writing on the wall, I decided I couldn’t excise them from my memory. I wouldn’t do to them as they’d done to me. I couldn’t. But I did have to interact with them. I didn’t have to trust them again. I didn’t have to be friends or friendly with them. But I did have to remain neutral territory to them, since they had all the social stock and I had next to none. I could tell the truth, to their mothers if no one else, and I had tools I didn’t have in elementary school, but if they left me alone, I’d leave them alone. So whenever I’d get raging furious at them, or whenever I’d recall an interaction that made me feel shame or humiliation, or whenever I’d grow indignant at their hypocrisies, I’d focus instead on a memory I could be grateful for. Playing in the maze of their dad’s stacked crab pots. Baking snickerdoodles with their mom. Dancing in their black light-lit room.

I still employ this technique in dealing with memories of toxic people. I settle on one thing I’m grateful for related to them—even if it’s just that now I know what that type of snake looks like—and try not to think about the rest. By not bringing those memories up again and again, I help them fade, becoming less potent and harder to access. If I do think of them, if the memory stirs that strong emotion again, I remind myself that those people aren’t in my life anymore and they have no ongoing power in it. I also remind myself that I don’t have to feel those ways anymore. I can feel gratitude instead, simple and brief.

And whenever a toxic but gone person comes up in conversation or in a memory, I do a sort of emotional temperature check. How do I feel about this person? How much am I letting memories of them affect my mood? Do I still forgive them? Do I need to forgive them all over again? Like a nuclear fallout, I’m amazed how long and in what odd and subtle and sometimes significant ways they can still affect me. I don’t like that that’s true, but it is.

I think it’s easier for me to deal with my childhood bullies than the toxic friends of college and adulthood because I can draw some lines in the sand around my childhood. They weren’t family. They didn’t physically hurt me. I wasn’t abused. I didn’t endure lasting trauma. And that part of my life is over. I’m a totally different person now. I could say all these things about college, too, but I’m now more like the person I was in college than the person I was as a child. My life more closely resembles college life than childhood life.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about 2 people who I now recognize as toxic. Both were in my life when I was in my early twenties but I’m still finding negative emotions, sometimes strong ones, rising in me at their memories. One was a classmate and friend. The other was a coworker and friend. During those same years, there were people who I better recognized at the time as being toxic. So I’ve already done a lot of work to heal from their influence. But these two people were my friends, or so I believed. I didn’t begin to comprehend how bad their influence was for me until much later. And, since lately I’ve been thinking about them without any fondness, I’m doubling down on applying my healing technique to them. I have chose one good, solid memory to be thankful for regarding each of them.

1. The classmate encouraged me to disregard negative feedback that focused on me instead of my writing.
2. The coworker provided a phone when my best friend was hurting and needed to talk with me.

There are other good memories, but I don’t need to analyze our relationship in depth—that can bring more pain. I’ve spent enough time already unlearning and unapplying their toxicity. I don’t need to analyze the good if I risk discovering (or rediscovering) new landmines of bad. One good memory is enough. And, frankly, they don’t deserve more than that.

Sometimes people say that God turned someone’s bad circumstances into good. Others believe that God led or allowed people to enter those bad circumstances in order to bring about the good outcomes. It does bring many people comfort to think in these ways. However, I don’t believe that God brings us to terrible circumstances because those are the only ways to make us learn or grow in certain ways. I don’t think we need to be able to identify a purpose to every thing that happens to us, good or bad or neutral or complicated. I don’t think there needs to be a purpose, understood or not. Hurricanes of various types just happen. And so do storms in my own life.

As is always the case, I can only control myself. Grasping one good memory with both hands is a big way I do so.

How do you deal with the legacies of toxic people in your life? What about toxic people who are still in your life?

A Married Valentine’s Day

Hello all,

I’m working on a series about gaming (board games as well as video games) but it needs more time to come together. I’ve been poking my brain for a few days to see what, in the way of blog post topics, might fall out. Lots of things did. Almost all related to books (recently covered) and games (the series grows longer).

I wanted to write something relevant to Valentine’s Day and…I didn’t really come up with anything cute or stirring. Just…I like Valentine’s Day. Always have, even pre-relationship when I spent every Valentine’s Day fending off people’s pitying looks and watching movies while eating ice cream and chocolate and cheesecake.

Red was my favorite color for most of my life (jury’s still out for my current favorite color). My mom used to make cupcakes on Valentine’s Day every year. I enjoy a focus on showing affection for others, enjoying flowers, demonstrating love for others even if you don’t tend to on other days of the year. Plus, any excuse to eat sweets is a good one in my book. I also love romance stories, romantic mysteries, romantic comedies. I love hanging out with my friends. I got to do all of these on Valentine’s Day.

This year is Tyler’s and my first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. But there doesn’t feel like much to report.

Last night we went out to our favorite Thai restaurant, Ladda Bistro, preempting the Thursday-night crowds. He got crispy duck, I got Pad See Ew; his was better, but mine was also very good. The pork dumplings were excellent, and we loved the mango sticky rice dessert. I had bought us 2 cupcakes from Smallcakes earlier that day, so we each had half for a second dessert right before bed.

On Valentine’s Day, we’ll probably cook dinner and play a board game, as Thursdays are our board game night. Tyler plans to buy me flowers. He already gave me a mug that says “girlfriend, fiancee, wife.” I ordered him a gift in a similar vein that hasn’t arrived yet. We might cut into the top tier of our wedding cake, which my bridesmaid Nicole has been saving for us in her freezer.

It’s probably because we’re newlyweds and at least a little obnoxious to everyone else right now (sorry, we don’t mean to be), but Valentine’s Day doesn’t feel like as much of a big deal as in felt in years past. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m perfectly fine with every day being a little more romantic and sweet than I’m used to. I’m glad that I’m thinking about better ways to love Tyler every day. But I have really enjoyed wearing my Valentine’s Day socks this week.

What are you doing for Valentine’s Day this year? Any good restaurant recommendations?

Making a Change

I intentionally build rhythms into my life. Doing so helps me track the days and gives me things to look forward throughout the week. Something unique to that day of the week breaks the mundane, but I prefer when that event is in itself a part of a larger, familiar rhythm. For example:

Monday – Water plants, Bible study
Tuesday – Favorite webtoon (online comic) is updated, new blog post
Wednesday – Water plants
Thursday – Game night with Tyler
Friday – Water plants, work blog updates, night “off”
Saturday – change out towels, laundry
Sunday – church, lunch with Tyler’s family

Other items—dinner with a friend, exercise, errands, trips to the grocery store, scrubbing the tub—I slot in to the open spaces.

The goal of my schedule is to build a healthy life. Over the years I’ve struggled to give myself enough structure to get things done that are important to me but maintain enough flexibility that I’m not over-scheduled. When I have too much on my list for the week, I feeling stifled and, if I don’t meet my own expectations for a day, I feel like I failed.

The feeling of failure is very bad for my confidence, productivity, and general well-being. I’m too much like Hermione in that way. Especially if I’m already tired or having a bad day.

On the other hand, when I’m not scheduled enough, things fall through the cracks and become habits I’m embarrassed to claim. Like my inconsistent writing schedule. Like my infrequent calls home. Like my lack of exercise. These are made more complicated by my sharing time and space with another person (which is also a very new and very big change in my life that I need to make some allowances for). They’re also complicated by my personal dislike of exercise in general and the fact that dishes are never ending. I did dishes and cleaned the entire kitchen Sunday after I made too many pigs-in-blankets for the Super Bowl, but there was already an imposing tower of tupperware sitting by the sink last night. And then there’s the whole “3 meals a day” thing.

I’ve been toying with the idea of buying a month’s pass at a local yoga studio, which would let me attend as many classes in a month as I want. To make the price worth it, I’d need to go to 2 or 3 classes a week. Honestly, that sounds like the type of schedule I’m going to resent and ultimately fail to keep up. I need to make exercise a habit again, but I don’t want to pay for something I may not get the most use out of. At the same time, I’ve had a list of yoga YouTube videos on my phone for years and have yet to turn those free resources into a habit. I used to walk 3 times a week, but my schedule changed when Tyler and I got engaged, and recently my walking buddy moved.

And so I do nothing. I continue to do nothing. But I need to make a change. The earlier I start the sooner those habits will form. Despite how much my life has changed in the past few months, despite how much I yearn for a steady rhythm, I know I’ll feel better when I’m claiming better habits. And I should be make changes one habit at a time.

Winter Reading

I used to give a book 100 pages to win me over. Then 50. Now, if I’m not enjoying it after 30 pages, I put it down and leave it behind. I let myself quit reading when I’m not longer enjoying a story, either, even if the book or series is well underway. Last summer, I was in the middle of well-touted book beloved by several of my friends. I had been listening to it on Audiobook and I’d invested 5 hours in it. But I had 9 left to go and I wasn’t willing to give that time to that story. So I took it off my phone, bought another audiobook, and started listening to it instead.

Here are the books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this winter:

The Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn
A Curious Beginning
A Perilous Undertaking
Mystery, romance, young adult; so much fun!

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Memoir; adoptee searches for birth parents while she’s pregnant with her first child

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Creative living/writing guide

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Romance; sequel/companion to The Wedding Date

A Quiet Life in the Country by T. E. Kinsey
Cozy mystery, historical, 2 middle-age spinster protagonists; fun romp!

***

And here are the books I’m looking forward to reading this spring when they are released:

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Fantasy, young adult; centers on my favorite character from the Shadow and Bone trilogy (which, with the Six of Crows series, is going to be a Netflix series!!!)

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
Historical, young adult; Beatles-loving protagonist with OCD tries to cross Kuala Lumpur during the 1969 race riots to find her mother

Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston
Fantasy, young adult; the same author who wrote the Star Wars book I pined for and dreamed of as a kid: Ahsoka; George Lucas did Padmé so wrong

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey
Mystery, historical; sequel to one of my favorite books of last year: The Widows of Malabar Hill

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
Fantasy, romance, young adult; opening line: “People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.”

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
The fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell series.

(En)joy

On New Year’s Eve, as we were reading in bed after watching the ball drop in New York City, I told Tyler that I thought my word for the year should be either joy or enjoy. In my mind I’d stylized it (en)joy, at least until one or the other became more apparent.

As with “believe”, my word for 2018, I wanted my word for 2019 to encourage me and remind me of my goals and hopes for this year. I want to relish it. A year without a huge party to plan. A year, hopefully, without last year’s stress. I just want to enjoy being married, spending time with friends, and following whatever whims come to me: wreath design, scarf creation, weekend-long read-a-thons, maybe a dance class. Instead of worrying or stressing, I want to enjoy this year. I want to find joy in all the little things around me. I even thought of a photo I could keep by my desk, a jumping picture in the desert from the same trip to Egypt as my 2018 photo.

So I find it ironic, and tiring, that I got sick on New Year’s Day with a sinus infection that laid me out for two weeks. I haven’t been that sick since I had the flu four years ago. Tyler was also sick. Many of the things that usually bring us comfort, like cuddling and going for walks, were out of reach. We struggled to find the energy to feed ourselves three times a day. We went to work when we felt well enough (which wasn’t often), went to Publix for orange juice and saltines and a different kind of decongestant that might help me sleep. We were in constant need of more Kleenex.

Enjoy? We were miserable.

And now I’m sick again. And things at work are complicated. And I’m still trying to get my name and address changed in all the necessary places. And once again I can’t seem to get enough sleep. And I’m thinking about my word and wondering How?

I have, of course, thought back to the many Sunday school lessons that focused on the differences between happiness and joy. Happy is a fleeting feeling based on circumstances. Joy is an abiding connection to God regardless of circumstances. I have tried to connect to joy by naming things I’m grateful for, like Tyler, blankets we’ve been gifted, sunshine, Gatorade, paid sick leave, health insurance, and money for plungers and Kleenex and pizza someone else made.

I’m stubborn, so I’m not changing my word now. But I am beginning to worry that this year will be a trying one in ways I cannot begin to comprehend. I know I’m tired and therefore prone to some fatalism. But if this year is going to be a difficult one, the joy and enjoyment I’m seeking will constantly be in spite of. Which sucks. But we aren’t guaranteed anything else in life. We aren’t guaranteed time where everything’s great, where the government isn’t shut down, where everyone I love is well, where Tyler and I each have the time to pursue our own interests, where we aren’t plagued by worries.

But neither are we promised a life with no enjoyment at all, no sweetness or fun. And we have had those times this year.

We’ll see what the balance will be.

Mary Oliver

Yesterday we learned of the death of Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. I enjoyed seeing her work filling my Twitter feed, including poems I’d never read and many familiar verses.

I can’t articulate well why Mary Oliver was one of my favorite poets. I read her poetry collections slowly, alone, with a pencil to underline beautiful lines, but I inevitably failed to use it because each line is so visceral and enrapturing. Mary Oliver came with honesty in her hands and I floated in her words, comforted. And now she is resting. I pray it is peaceful.

In an earlier version of this post, I quoted six of my favorite Mary Oliver poems. However, a friend rightly point out that Mary Oliver’s works are all under copyright. I don’t want to keep anyone from paying for her art by supplying her words here, so I’ve replaced the poems with links to some of my favorite collections of her works. If you haven’t invested in one of her collections, or if (like me) you’re wanting to get another one, I heartily recommend these three.

A Thousand Mornings
Dog Songs
Owls and Other Fantasies

Color Questions

A couple of days before my brother proposed to his girlfriend, I texted him to ask what her favorite color is. I wanted to send them engagement gifts in time for the big question and wasn’t sure what color to pick for hers.

He texted back, “Green (I think, double checking).”

I started to text back, “No wait! If you don’t know, you don’t want to ask outright!” But I didn’t. After all, I wouldn’t get upset if my husband didn’t know my favorite color. Actually, I was pretty sure he didn’t. I couldn’t remember us ever talking about it, and if we had it’d been years earlier. We’d known each other 9 years before we started dating, after all. We simply didn’t have as many of the expected “get to know you” conversations in our remembered past.

So I looked at my husband and said, “My favorite color’s red. I don’t expect you to have known that.”

His ears hadn’t been ready to listen, and I hadn’t given any context, so he asked me to repeat myself and then asked a couple of clarifying questions. Once done, he said thoughtfully, “I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

“I didn’t think so,” I told him. I don’t use it in decorating or wear a lot of red or anything. “But I wanted to tell you.” Then I asked, “What’s your favorite color?”

“It’s blue.”

“Okay,” I answered. “That’s what I would have guessed.”

The summer after I graduated from high school, my youth minister, his wife, and our head pastor took as many graduates from the church as wished to go (as I remember, there were 3 or maybe 4 of us) to a lake in TN for a long weekend. As we played cards after dinner the first night, one of my fellow grads sat forward.

“I want to confess something,” she announced, loud enough to attract the entire’s room’s attention.

We weren’t from a denomination where confession is done publicly or in a structured time/place, so no one seemed to know quite what to do.

“My whole life,” she continued after a moment, her face rapturous, “whenever someone’s asked what my favorite color is, I’ve said green. But really, it’s blue.”

The room fairly erupted into laughter and applause.

She hurried to explain, “Everyone always says their favorite color is blue, and I didn’t want to be like everyone else, so I said green. But it’s really blue.”

The adults fanned their faces and sagged with relief into their chairs. “I thought this was going to be something serious!” one exclaimed.

“Well,” said my friend, still in a very good mood, “it is. I’ve always known the truth about myself but I didn’t share it. And we’re talking about who we want to become when we go to college. I just want to be more myself, and have the confidence to say what’s true even if it’s the same as everyone else.”

I, meanwhile, did a gut check of my own favorite color. It’s red, isn’t it? I questioned, searching my feelings as I outwardly applauded. Yup. Definitely red. I didn’t have a cool revelation to share and shock everyone—which held a measure of appeal to me—but I knew my favorite color.

My brother soon texted back, “Her favorite color is blue and I sense I’m in a teensy bit of trouble.”

“Uh oh!” I answered. “Tyler didn’t know mine either if that helps.”

Except, now I’m wondering.

I just picked out colors for a wedding and a whole registry worth of household items. How much red had I chosen? I looked up from my brother’s texts and studied the room: a Christmas pillow on the armchair, the wreath on the door, the tree skirt. That was about it. The watercolors I’d bought for our home didn’t include red. Our quilt was mostly purple with stripes of neutrals and bold colors in the same palate. Our dinnerware wasn’t red. The clothes I’d bought that fall included 2 red sweaters, but I had many more neutral sweaters, and my closet hadn’t felt complete without a purple one. I never pushed for red towels and I’d originally planned to change the red, grey, and white shower curtain in one of the bathrooms, but it grew on me.

So how do I feel about red?

I still get a zip from it. The 2 red stripes on the quilt. Red cars. Red Christmas accents. My Atlanta United jersey. My car.

In general, I find red more imposing than I used to, and than I prefer. I don’t want to see red walls or red linens every day for the whole year. No red drinking glasses. No red towels. No red coats or art. A friend chose red as her accent color for her winter wedding, and I liked it, but I was glad I’d chosen sapphire blue, with a little peachy pink for variety.

What colors am I preferring these days? I looked around again. My coat, favorite long and short-sleeve shirts, much of the quilt, and new journal are all purple. Our towels, koi watercolor prints, cooler, bridesmaid dresses, bouquets, new cell phone, and favorite highlighter are all blue.

I don’t know that all this constitutes a change in my official favorite color. I don’t have to decorate with or wear a color for it to be my favorite. But I also know I’m not the same person I was as a child and teen and high school graduate. Gratefully so. It’s conceivable that one’s favorite color might change. And maybe that’s the case with me.

Why am I think about all this? It’s a new year. And at a new year, I tend to evaluate myself and my life. What’s working for me? What would I like to build differently or new this year? What do I know about myself that I didn’t a year ago? Some years I think about shoes, some years I think about colors. And, since I’ve been sick with a bad sinus infection since NYE, missing days of work on top of the holidays I already had off, I’ve had a lot of time to look around my apartment and wonder.

What Do I Thirst for this Christmas?

A friend recently pointed me toward Mary Oliver’s poem “Thirst” and encouraged me to consider what I am yearning for in the coming season. I’ve been reflecting on this all month, both because it’s Advent and because I’ve been in the habit this year of writing in my One-Line-a-Day journal. I’ve found it supremely helpful to spend a few minutes summarizing the day, good and bad, before bed. However, it’s rather different to look back on a single day than to look forward several weeks toward a day seeped in so much expectation and attention and baggage.

I have been looking forward, however, with the help of a one-page-a-day Advent journal. Each day of December, the journal prompts you to answer a question about your upcoming Christmas and provides space for you to record the festive things you did that day. Many of my entries thus far include passages processing my younger cousin Santee’s death, as well as notes about what gifts I’m looking forward to giving, what traditions are new for Tyler and I, the movies we watched, the shopping I did, and the flavors I’m experiencing (like gingerbread cookies and peppermint hot chocolate).

So what do I thirst for as Christmas approaches?

Comfort for Santee’s friends, girlfriend, sister, and niblings. I yearn for comfort as well for our extended family, including conversation about Santee’s life and death. A death so near Christmas, as well as experiencing the first holiday without a loved one, is it’s own unique brand of pain. Worse because your grief is in direct tension with calls to be jolly and joyful and the insistence that all is merry and bright. Our family has experienced this before, but many of Santee’s friends won’t have.

Time to rest and enjoy the season. That means time to read a fluffy Christmas romance and watch a ton of movies. That means time to bake and make ornaments. Time to run errands without feeling rushed. I’d love to get my wedding photos organized and printed but I’m concentrating on enjoying the season, not bogging myself down with something I can do any time of the year.

Peace for all people. The peace I refer to comes from a Hebrew word, shalom, referring not only to a cessation of violence and vehemence but also the wholeness and wellness of the entire community. This won’t happen on the scale I want, maybe not even in my family, so I’ve chosen several ways to work toward providing a more peaceful holiday for others.

What do you thirst for as December trots on? Silence? Solitude? Companionship? Rest? Understanding? Shortbread? I’d love to hear the desire that sings for you.