A Brilliant 2020

I already wrote my post reflecting on 2019, so this post is about my hopes for 2020 and beyond. Last year, I said I don’t like resolutions because they’re broken so easily, but I did keep to my 2019 goal of reading 40+ books (the grand total is over 60 and I promise I’ll post the entire list and highlight my favorites). I also sent queries to over 20 agents, so I kept to my goal of pursuing publishing in 2019. I *didn’t* do so hot at keeping up bi-weekly manicures (and my hands are still a mess most of the time) BUT I was getting a little better at “treating” myself more frequently–then we moved and I’ve yet to find a nail salon I love as much as the one in the Central West End (but one goal for 2020 is to stop being passive-aggressively-bitter about no longer living in St. Louis).

Riding on last year’s coattails, my goals for 2020 are similar. This year, my goal is 50 books. I’m not anticipating the downtime of a move between jobs, so most of my reading will be squeezed into the in-between-life moments: brushing my teeth, waiting for elevators, steeping my tea in the mornings.

I’ve decided to hold off querying any more agents until I’ve gotten a first draft of my sequel finished. Partially because I think this might take some pressure off, mostly because I know how the story ends but no idea how to get there, and I like the flexibility of being able to tweak book 1 if needed to make the entire story better. So my 2020 goal is to finish drafting Sticks and Stones (working title), then regroup in terms of publishing. (Of course, that goes completely out the window if an agent offers representation now) 😉

I like the idea of doing something very resolution-y and health/physical-body-related, even though my follow through is statistically horrible. I’m going to try getting up a half hour early and incorporating a quick yoga routine into my mornings. And maybe get more manicures again.

I’m also going to return to therapy in 2020. This one’s kind of cheating, because I’ve already made the appointment, but I like crossing things off lists. Look at me go, already starting 2020 ahead of the game! I want to be more honest (I know that’s a goal I’ve had in the past, but this year I’m particularly focused on no longer lying to myself), and I hope therapy will help me separate out how I actually think/feel/want to act from the ways I *think* I should think/feel/act.

And I’m totally going to bake more, because I absolutely love it. I want to master challah, and tackle at least 5 items on my baking bucket list in 2020: macarons, croissants, sandwich bread, pretzel buns, and rainbow cookies.

Because everything in life should come with a soundtrack, here’s my song for 2020: BRILLIANT by Shinedown. If I can be one thing in 2020, let it be this kind of brilliant.

Best Nine of 2019

I love the trend of posting your best nine pics of a given year. Not only is it a chance to revisit some excellent memories and gather them all into one collage (remember making actual collages in the 90s, pasting together photos and stickers and ticket stubs? Am I dating myself?), but pulling together nine pictures from across a year reminds you just how blessed you are.

Maybe I’ve just had an extraordinarily *good* year. Maybe I’m just getting better at seeing the positives. Either way, this year I struggled to narrow down my 2019 experiences into nine thumbnail-sized shots. So what are blogs for, if not reminiscing?

At the beginning of the year, we got a perfect snow in St. Louis–enough to disrupt work for a day, not enough to put us on lockdown. One of the neighborhood restaurants opened its patio that night and provided free spiked hot chocolate/hot toddies around fire pits. Such a midwestern thing to do, and such spontaneous, snowy fun!

We also went to our first (and only) musical at the Fox Theatre while in the Lou. Fiddler on the Roof was every bit as magical as I remember it being when I watched it on VHS in middle school (moreso, since it was live, and I was old enough to appreciate what was going on in the story–I did NOT realize how dark it gets in Act II!).

Taking advantage of our location, we did a long weekend in the other Lou–touring bourbon distilleries, appreciating the baseball history, and visiting Churchill Downs. Louisville remains one of my favorite trips we’ve taken, and I can’t wait to visit again!

2019 saw the first newborn member inducted into the Olin Boys’ Club, as well as a whole host of get-togethers and adventures with our b-school buddies. These include Olin’s formal, graduation, and a trip to the Ozarks, to feature a few. The hubs turned 30, which we celebrated with bowling followed by a rooftop bar.

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We also enjoyed adult beverages in the street, because St. Louis.

We visited Chicago and continued an hour north to see Milwaukee (my favorite of the small cities we’ve visited since moving to St. Louis). We popped home in time to watch the Blues win the Stanley Cup. Then began our journey east.

After a pit stop in Indianapolis (and another, not-pictured, in Pittsburgh), we made it to our new home in DC. I worked on polishing my manuscript and query materials, and began seeking agent representation for my novel.

My brother visited during his (too) brief tour of the US before returning to Korea. I bravely (for me) explored DC on my own, between job-hunting and writing. And my in-laws (after at least 8 years of talking about it) *finally* bought a home in Old Town.

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We made it out to Rehoboth Beach, where we discovered we’re no longer used to the brilliance of a sun reflecting off ocean waves.

An agent responded to one of my queries, complimenting my writing sample and requesting more. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire walk home from our new favorite pizza place. My husband bought a car (unrelated, but almost as exciting for him).

Dear friends tied the knot. Others have growing families. I turned 30.

And celebrated with a parade. Okay, that was for the Nationals, since they won the World Series and all. I started a new job with a fun group of people. I watched so much Great British Baking Show that I was inspired…

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The challah that started it all!

I spent time with those adorable faces (and equally adorable sister- and brother-in-law, not pictured). I baked a lot more delicious stuff. Turns out, I’m a baker! #challahatyagirl

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As the year winds down, holiday parties are filling the calendar. Crazy to think there’s only a week left in 2019, and in the 2010s! What a decade it was. Here’s to the memories, friendships, and epic life changes!

And to 2020: No pressure. 😉

Grabbing a Bite at My Favorite Spot

The night is so cold, my ears start to ache before we’ve even crossed the street. Breath crystallizes in the light of a streetlamp and my nose throbs. My date ushers me through the door first, ever the gentleman, and I’m hit by a wall of heat and the rich scent of beer and well-polished wood.

The bartender pauses in her conversation with one of the local regulars to call a friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” as we pass. We wave, still too frozen (not to mention far too hungry) for Midwestern small-talk. The floorboards are well-worn around the horseshoe bar, as if we needed a path to follow.

Tonight, we’re in luck: there are only a handful of people in line. Of course, if this is their first visit, we could still wait a half-hour to order, but I like our odds. My eyes wander the tap handles as I try to decide between my usual Citywide Pale Ale or a nice chocolate milk stout.

Aggressive music floats through the window into the kitchen, underscoring the conversation taking place there. This close, the smell of caramelizing ground beef makes my mouth water. Impatience sets me bouncing on the balls of my feet as the couple at the counter finalize their order.

“Hey, guys, long time no see,” he says when it’s our turn.

It’s been just over a week since our last visit. It feels like an eternity has passed.

The guys chitchat about the weather and how quiet it is tonight, despite the line that has multiplied behind us. Then comes the order: “Two double classics with everything and a side of regular fries.”

I pretend I might switch it up, but in the end, it’s always the same.

We snag two stools at the far corner of the bar, Thursday night football starting up on the screen behind us. Frigid winter air leaks through the seam of the door beneath the TV, but it’s toasty within my jacket. The phone nestles on the bar between us.

I’ve gone for the stout; he orders the pale ale. We people-watch and make up whispered stories about those in line, feet from where we sit. A raucous cheer sounds from the other side of the bar. I twist in time to catch the replay and curse my fantasy team.

The phone buzzes: order’s up! He slides from the stool and squeezes past the line to retrieve the scratched metal tray. My heart pounds with anticipation. Butter, onions, and sizzling beef cloud around us as he sets our burgers down.

The toasted bun is soft and buttery. The crisp edge of the smashed patties adds a delicate crunch, and melted American cheese wraps it all in salty, gooey luxury. No matter how much I savor every bite, the burger is gone within minutes, washed down with fat, golden fries—perfectly crisp exterior, soft carby interior—and a swallow of one of 4Hand’s finest brews.

My belly full and warm, my fingertips buzzing from the stout, we brave the cold once more to return home.

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Taking a Walk to Clear My Head

Today is one of those achingly beautiful days. The sky is painfully blue, a blue you could gladly drown in, and the sun bathes the multi-colored trees golden. Each breath is crisp with decaying leaves and the promise of frost.

Cars fly through the intersection. A golden-doodle pants at my side, distracted from the sight of the park across the street by a new person to smell. I bury my gloved hands deep in my coat pockets and tilt my face skyward. A light but insistent wind tugs at my earlobes and rubs the tip of my nose, but the sun’s warmth soothes away the sting.

It’s a day that reminds you you’re alive and demands you be happy about it.

The light changes, a shiny pickup and rusted old Honda blurring past anyway. Everyone waits a collective breath, then the dog leads the charge into the crosswalk. Two joggers pass, spurring the dog and its owner faster. I take my time. Forest Park waits patiently.

Inside the park, the sun dapples through slowly-dying leaves. I cross the bridges, first over the metrolink, then over the parkway, and descend to the Victorian footbridge. Wood planks echo underfoot. I take a moment to lean against the black metal railing. A chill seeps through the down of my jacket sleeves. The sun reflects off the water below, and on the far bank, a weeping willow flutters in the wind.

Two teenagers speed past on electric scooters, rumbling across the footbridge. Wisps of breathless conversation drift by as speed-walking moms push their strollers toward the ice rink. I turn right instead, gravel crunching beneath my boots. Here, without the burnt-hued trees shading the path, the sun sinks into my skin. Frigid air burns my nose with each inhalation. Every breath tastes of life.

By the time I reach the statue and pause for a vehicle headed down the road toward the Muny, my fingers are numb despite the gloves. Breath clouds in front of my face and my cheeks tingle. I turn and follow the path back along the creek, past a man calling for his black lab as his little boy cheers on the dog sloshing through the shallow current. Past a couple arguing on a bench near the pond with the fountain spraying rainbows between its jets. Back under tree-cover, a smile for the homeless man curling up on the bench surrounded by brambles and caught-leaves. Across the footbridge, pausing for a cyclist to cross my path. A grandmother helps a toddling child in a princess skirt climb the stairs to the pedestrian overpass. She trades a smile with me over her shoulder then cautions the little girl to “let the lady pass.”

A train blurs below as I cross the second bridge, its rails whistling protests against the cold metal. Somewhere, a fire crackles in a wood-burning fireplace, filling the air with the smoky-sweet scent of home.

It is a good day to be alive.

Highs and Lows

Hello, friends! It’s been a little bit, and mostly that’s because I’ve been busy (but also, a little lazy).

So we *moved*. The Navy Yard area of DC is so fun and surprisingly pretty (I’ll admit, I was expecting a lot more concrete, but there are parks and tree-lined streets not far in the beautiful Capitol Hill neighborhood). I will definitely need to post about the great food and drinks we’ve experienced thus far!

I also started a new job! It happened a lot faster than I expected, which is mostly good because I was already starting to get a little stir-crazy–though a little extra time between jobs may have provided more writing opportunities.

Who am I kidding? I started the querying process shortly after the move, so rather than putting pen to paper, I was crafting letters and cramming the happenings of my story into a single page (double-spaced). This process gave me terrible writer’s block, because my brain was so focused on the nittiest, grittiest of details rather than letting my imagination roam free.

So my lack of creativity mingled with my lack of hearing back from agents I queried, sprinkled with stress over starting a new job in a new city with a new, hellish commute has had me bouncing from high to low and back again. The best way to explain how I’ve felt this past month would be to say I vacillate between “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco and “Special” by Shinedown with very little neutral ground. Though, I’m pleased to report things just might be looking up for me in the writing world. To be continued…

That’s all I’ve got for right now, I’ll try to get back to semi-regular posting once I’m more settled into a routine. I’ve definitely got the commute for composing rambles!

Makeup Thoughts

I was thinking this morning as I did my makeup, about how naturally pretty my mom is, and how little makeup she wears. Most of what I know about techniques and color palettes I learned from YouTube. I was thinking about my own someday-daughter, and what I’d want to teach her about makeup–or if I’d want to emphasize her natural beauty. I definitely have days where I don’t feel pretty until I’ve slapped on some eyeshadow and brow powder, and I wouldn’t want to teach that insecurity to my daughter. I’d want her to see makeup as something fun and pretty that she can wear when she feels like it–like a nice pair of earrings or killer heels. Something that adds a little “oomph” but isn’t necessary.

That got me thinking about makeup as a concept. As I drew a careful line in plum eyeshadow along my lower lashes with the tapered eyeliner brush, I thought of how artistic the act of applying makeup really is. And how cool it is that someone was so overflowing with creativity that they looked at their own skin as a canvas for color and art. Makeup is an artform that anyone can participate in, an art project we wear on our face and show to the world, and often receive compliments on. It’s a touch of beauty in the every day, and that’s awesome in its own way.

Darkness Falls…In My Stairwell

I’m here to talk to you today about the scariest movie I’ve seen. Mostly because I think about it every-freakin-day as I walk up the stairs from the garage to my apartment.

There’s a light out on the landing between the 4th and 5th floors in my stairwell, which isn’t exactly a “safety issue”–it creates a *tiny* pocket of darkness one must step inside as she turns the corner around the stair railing, but otherwise visibility is fine. NO ONE would take issue with this (beyond the frustration of like hello, can someone change a lightbulb? what kind of professionally managed building is this??) unless they’ve been scarred for life by a horror movie involving darkness.

I’ve never been one for scary movies, but most of the (admittedly few) horror flicks I’ve seen haven’t lingered like this one–and the friends who watched Darkness Falls with me laughed at the ridiculousness and fondly reminisced about how the restroom lights were out at the theater the day they’d gone to see it the first time. I remember being afraid during Halloween H20 (the only of the Halloween franchise I’ve seen, oddly enough), The Bogeyman, The Descent, The Hills Have Eyes…but I could hardly tell you anything that happens in any of them now.

I tried watching Darkness Falls again, thinking a second go around would help me laugh it off the way those friends had. It only reignited my terror of the dark (something I already had and continue to deal with on occasion to this day).

See, the whole premise is you can’t peek when the tooth fairy comes to take your lost teeth, or else she’ll murder you. And OF COURSE the stupid kid peeks, so she murders his family while he takes cover in the fully-lit bathroom, because any light burns her. The image of her floating in the shadows above the door to the bathroom as it spills light into the hallway is BURNED onto my brain and I think of it every single time I reach that damn dark landing in my stairwell.

SO if any 4th or 5th floor neighbors happen to read this blog, those terrified high-heeled stomps you hear every day around 5pm belong to me, racing away from the potential tooth fairy who may or may not be out for my blood because I totally saw her when I watched the movie.

Any movies still fill you with irrational fear? Please tell me I’m not alone!

(Of course, I’m not. The tooth fairy is waiting around every shadow *wink*)

I Guess it’s Time to Talk About Nanowrimo

It’s been long enough. First off, I completely get why people do it. It makes sense that taking a month to discipline yourself into carving out chunks of time to write, a time when so many people around the world are also writing, encouraging you on, all of that goodness would help a person get 50,000 words onto a page.

I’m very competitive. I do not like to lose. As soon as I start to feel like I’m losing, I hate whatever game I’m playing and just want to quit.

I’m also not a quitter. It makes for a really uncomfortable experience when part of me wants to pout and storm off and the other part is like nah we gotta at least finish this bitch.  Add to that the desire to be more forgiving and loving towards myself and you get a hot freaking mess come mid-November.

I think I got around 20,000 words written, which is no small thing. But unlike last summer, when I was churning out several thousand words a day, my heart wasn’t in it. My head was barely in it–more focused on word count and “sprints” and the desire to edit my current story rather than start working on the sequel. Plus my husband was around, which makes it so hard.

That’s the best problem to have as a writer/human being, though. I have someone in my life whose very presence makes it hard to focus on other things. Even if he’s in the other room working on schoolwork or watching TV, a part of me just wants to be beside him, and feels like any moment I’m not is ultimately squandered. That also makes it difficult to pursue my writing sometimes, which is frustrating and makes me angry with him for making me love him so damn much. There was a lot of moodiness in November that only added to the misery of failing at Nanowrimo wordcounts and falling behind in working on my current novel.

So, for me, it was a very good lesson learned: National Novel Writing Month is not a thing I’ll participate in again, at least not in the near future.

Ephesians 5:25

“Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives…”
~Ephesians 5:25-28 MSG

The first time I heard this verse, this way, it broke my heart. I’d all but convinced myself I expected too much from the idea of “true love,” that real life looks nothing like the novels or movies I love. I was ready to settle for a faded out shade of love offered by a boy whose brokenness only sharpened my own.

Then I heard those words, and it captured perfectly what I’d wanted my whole life. Here was proof I wasn’t being completely unrealistic in my hopes for a love that lifts up without first tearing down.

I wrote my favorite snippet on an index card and hung it up over my computer: His words evoke her beauty. And I resolved to believe that sort of love was waiting for me.

It wasn’t some magical, life-altering thing. I didn’t end my current relationship — not right away. I wanted still to believe it could happen between us. And when we fell apart completely, I was hollowed out and worried I’d missed my chance.

When I met my husband, he made it very clear from the moment he said hello that he was interested in me. He wooed me like an oldfashioned gentleman, with gifts left outside my door and little notes just to say he was thinking of me. He made me feel wanted and adored and powerful, and not just with him, or because of him. I felt like the whole world should be able to see me that way, too. I’d never experienced anything like him, and I couldn’t find the words to explain just how amazing I felt.

Sometime in those early weeks, I opened a drawer I hadn’t since moving to my new apartment, and right on top sat an index card a hopeful me had scribbled more than two years earlier. His words evoke her beauty.

That’s how he loved me, even before he’d admitted those three words. That’s how he loves me still, seven years after our first date.

Home Sweet Home

A year ago today, I drove into St. Louis for the first time, full of apprehension and excitement in equal parts. I still remember the feeling I got when I came around the bend and saw the Arch from the highway while still in Illinois. Like my heart had been blown through a bubble wand.

This year has held highs and lows, as time is wont to do, but I am still so in love with this city. It isn’t perfect, but it’s whole-heartedly mine. Whether or not St. Louis is our ‘forever home’ remains to be seen, but I am so thankful we made the leap of faith to leave our family and friends and venture to a place we’d never experienced. I have grown so much in this past year, gaining confidence and settling into who I really am at my core. We’ve made some amazing new friendships, eaten some epic food, and had more adventures this year than I can count.

So here’s to you, St. Louis, and the year(s) to come!