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.

How a Writing Community Helped Me Understand “The Bachelor”

It occurred to me the other day how similar my life is to a season of The Bachelor. Okay, it isn’t really, but just bear with me. I’m part of this online writing community called Scribophile, where we upload chapters of our works-in-progress, and read and critique each others’ works. It’s amazing and encouraging and so so helpful.

But. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how long it takes me to return a critique. I get wrapped up in some stories and just want to keep reading them, other relationships be damned!, but I try to be fair about returning the attention I receive. If someone takes the time to offer me feedback on a chapter, I want to show my appreciation by offering the same. Also, there are several stories I’m really into–not just one. I’ve established critique relationships with a bunch of people and enjoy the dialogue we maintain about our works on a regular basis, so I feel like I’m missing a friend when we go too long without conversing.

So anyway, I was chatting with one friend about his story and thinking about how I want to just charge ahead and finish his book so we can have a full, big-picture type discussion (and because I’m very excited for the developments I know are coming up because I totally peeked ahead–don’t tell my mom, I hate it when she does this!). Meanwhile, I have the first chapter of a whole new story/crit-relationship pulled up to start on, and I got this irrational thought that it was almost like cheating on his story, because I felt so excited about this new one. And that’s crazy, because loving a new story doesn’t make previously-read stories any less loved (I’ve got several bookshelves of proof).

Maybe it’s because The Bachelorette recently started its newest season, but my mind instantly went to the show, and how one person seems to genuinely enjoy her time with every guy when it’s his turn. It’s always seemed odd to me, like can she really be so *into* this one when she was just laughing so hard with that one?

Obviously this is a very different scenario. I’m just saying that I see now how something can be absorbing and delightful and take up a person’s full attention, only for the same to be true of something similar (and yet, completely different).

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.

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.

Our Sixth Month-iversary

I just reread my post after we’d been in Saint Louis for a month and kept thinking how adorable it was/we were. So bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and timid of our surroundings.

There is still SO much for us to do and explore and conquer, but damn have we gotten comfortable, too. We’ve found a neighborhood bar for football games in I-Tap, or Tom’s for trivia, awesome chicken tenders, and karaoke on the weekends. Oof, I’ll have to write a post (or several) about all the amazing food we’ve had.


I love Forest Park, even (especially?) the pathways that intimidated me at first, with the shadowed bridges and wooded trails. I have no fear wandering the park alone, or sending my husband to take his daily walks through the park or the neighborhood by himself. Sure, we’re aware of our surroundings, especially at night, but no more so than we were back in the DC area.


The Grove is also one of our favorite neighborhoods. It is home to my husband’s favorite sandwich spot: Gramophone (mention either the Grove or Gramophone to him and prepare to hear at length about the Alcatraz sandwich). It’s also the location of Urban Chestnut Brewery, which might be my favorite of the local breweries. I’ll probably put out a post about all the beer we’ve had since moving at some point, too.


My husband found his coffee shop in Kaldi’s Coffee in Demun — which is also his favorite residential neighborhood to wander through, enjoying the different houses. He’s also recently started using our French press to make coffee at home (that damn Crate & Barrel coffee maker gathering dust on the shelf in our front closet). With Whole Foods and Straubs Market each a block away, we’ve had no excuse not to cook at home most nights, and it’s encouraged us to try a lot of new recipes and cook with ingredients we just hadn’t before, like tofu and tilapia. Also, I’ve never been into seafood the way I have been here. It’s so weird, being landlocked, but the fish is flown in fresh daily to most places.

Blackened Tilapia Tacos

I could go on and on, and plan to be better at posting about our adventures and discoveries, but for now, let me just say: I freaking love Saint Louis. I love the Midwest, I love living in an urban setting with lush parks and nature steps away. Guys, there’s also NO TRAFFIC. It’s so easy to get to hiking trails, or the mall, or my office (20 min to go about the same miles), or Missouri wine country… There’s always some sort of festival or event going on, and most of the time it’s free. Seriously, everyone come visit. Or come stay. Six months in, and I’m not looking back.

Brewery Lights Tour

Our First Month-iversary

Today marks one month since we arrived in Saint Louis, and in its honor (and because I have nothing clever to say), I will share some of my journal entries from the past four weeks.

Here are the highlights:

7/18 –

Thoughts and memories from the second half of the drive (Columbus, OH to Saint Louis, MO):

  • Way less pretty than the drive to OH
  • I saw a license plate from Alberta!
  • The last 20 minutes of the trip filled me with butterflies. I wanted to be like “no, never mind, let’s just go home, I don’t want to do this.” Then, coming around a bend, I caught my first glimpse of the arch. I audibly gasped and all I felt was excitement.img_4420
  • Passing Busch Stadium, “Country Grammar” came on — which has basically been my theme song for moving to The Lou.

Now we’re watching the first Harry Potter movie on the little TV I brought in my car — OMG I just found out my husband has never seen the end of the series and didn’t know (*SPOILERS*) Harry had to die. WHO DID I MARRY!?

It still doesn’t feel real, but as we get more unpacked and start exploring the neighborhood, I’m sure it will settle in.

7/19 –

My husband just informed me the pill bugs we found yesterday got squished into the bottom of our air mattress and won’t come off — gross, but hilarious!

Some bee-otch was moving out this morning and booked the loading dock from 8-10 but her movers were late and they were supposed to pack her up, too, and they were all “do you mind waiting?” and we had to be like LOL NO. carol

Tonight we had amazing Mexican at El Burro Loco and met the bartender Juan who recommended a strong Chupa Cabra Marg for me and promised I’d like it without even knowing me, but guess what: I did, so good job, Juan. — Love, me & tequila

7/22 –

This morning we got coffee from Soulard Coffee Garden. The back patio was very cute and their sit-down breakfast options looked good. We just got coffee/tea and a muffin — and the coffee guy was pretty douchey.

7/23 –

Since our dishwasher is still messed up, we’ve developed this adorable habit of washing and drying dishes by hand each night and even though there’s a drying mat if I take too long to grab a towel and start drying my husband chides me like, “excuse me, young lady, what do you think you’re doing?”

7/24 –

This morning we tried out Rise coffee shop in Tower Grove. We drove past one boarded building and two with graffiti so my husband was convinced we’d entered the heart of the ghetto. But the Tower Grove strip was nice — super hipster. It reminded me a lot of DC. We also checked out the Galleria so my husband could find some business casual pants — which he ended up ordering online. Typical millennial, destroying the department store industry.

For the fourth night in a row, I’ve asked if he wants to document anything. For the fourth time, he’s simply said “no.” with an angelic smile.

**UPDATE: So I found out that there is a neighborhood called The Grove, and one called  Tower Grove, and contrary to my belief (and in my defense, the belief of our waitress who was there when we found out), they are NOT the same place. Rise coffee shop is in THE Grove. Not to be confused with Tower Grove, which is more residential, and has a rather lovely park.

7/25 –

For dinner we went to Dressel’s Pub near us. My husband had the “best burger he’s had in five years” (or so he told his dad) and I had some freaking excellent crawfish mac n cheese.

7/27 –

My husband’s (FIRST) input:
The nice thing about living somewhere else is it forces you to reach out to people you wouldn’t otherwise.

And he likes his friend’s neighborhood in U-City.

8/11 –

My husband shaved his beard for picture day yesterday (frowny face). It won’t be so scratchy when I kiss him, but I really like him with a beard. Fortunately, he does, too, and will likely grow one again once “meet the firms” is over in September.

(Update): On our way to a river boat cruise with his MBA class, he and four of his buddies agreed to grow mustaches this november. NOT what I’d hope for his facial hair…

8/12 –

Last night’s river boat cruise was a lot of fun. It was cool being at the base of the arch, even if the river front is nothing special — very industrial. Still, coming back toward the dock after sunset, with the cool river breeze teasing the hair around my face, the city lights twinkling off the water and the shadowed arch looming overhead, it felt like one of those rare, fleeting moments of 100% perfection. A tiny sliver of pure contentment when you’re just happy to be alive.


After the cruise we went out in Ballpark Village, which was basically like a mall but with bars instead of stores. Expensive, though, so we left and went to Tin Roof. It was so fun, dancing with everyone. A lot of the guys had moves so similar to my wildcards I couldn’t stop laughing.

8/13 –

Tonight, my husband had to remind ME about Game of Thrones! I keep forgetting it’s an hour earlier here and almost missed getting to sing along with the opening.

Earlier in the day, we finally walked through our side of Forest Park. There are some very pretty bridges — one a Victorian footbridge from the 1890s — and decent water features. Still, it’s very shadowed/treed in the direction we walked, so I’ll likely not go that way alone. But it’s nice that we have such pretty walking/jogging paths literally right outside our door.

Rambling Reviews: Secondborn

**This contains a few spoilers, though — as I’ll go into more below — nothing really felt like a “big reveal” enough to qualify protecting the details**

For July’s “Kindle First” book, I chose Secondborn by Amy Bartol. An aside — Kindle First is possibly my favorite part of being an Amazon Prime member, since I get a free book each month before it’s released to the public. It’s currently $4.99 otherwise.

I love the concept of the story: Firstborns are basically royalty, secondborns are servants and soldiers, thirdborns are illegal and therefore destroyed. Of course, Secondborn follows one such secondborn, Roselle, as she acclimates to her new life as a member of the Fates Army. Since she’s the daughter of one of the highest leaders of the society, she’s something of a celebrity, making her transition into the ranks that much harder.

Bartol’s world-building is pretty phenomenal. I love the different “trees” everyone lives in, and the imaginative technology. After finishing this book, I read that she is well-known for her fantastic worlds, and this time was no exception.

World-building aside, this book felt more like a rough first draft than anything. The relationships are hurried and there is very little depth to Roselle. I liked Hawthorne as a potential love interest, but as soon as I’d thought that, he was declaring his love and they were in this intense physical relationship that just felt strange. Then a year passes (denoted by “one year later”), in which an actual relationship could have developed more naturally between them — complete with the slow, delicious build up of more and more physical affection — and I might have felt more invested when he was suddenly ripped away from her.

She seems to attract every handsome male in her vicinity. That didn’t exactly bug me — after all, her life had been broadcast since a child, and it’s insinuated she’s very pretty — but I couldn’t tell how she felt back. There’s a lot of exposition and “telling” rather than showing, but I don’t feel like I ever really saw inside Roselle’s head.

The whole thing ends rather abruptly, in what feels like the middle of a conversation. There’s no resolution of a goal — and in retrospect, I’m not even sure what Roselle’s goals as a character were for this story. Too many questions were left unanswered, and more cropped up with such a quick ending.

All that being said, if the second book shows up as a free option, I might check it out. There’s so much potential for a great series. The characters can be fleshed out more, given actual motivations and backstory and their relationships and interactions to flow more naturally. The underlying concept of the story has potential to generate enticing plot lines. And like I said earlier, the world itself is fascinating. The first book was just too rushed and disjointed for me to recommend it.

Reflections on Virginia, and Life in General

Today my husband and I leave for Missouri (thank goodness for the option to schedule future posts!). As of writing this, I have two full days left in Virginia. Other than the first five or six years of my life, Virginia has always been home. I went to school here. I made lasting friendships with some beautiful, garbage people. I fell in love and found my forever person here. Despite being born in Maryland, Virginia will always be the best part of the D.C. metro area, and Maryland will always suck simply because it isn’t Virginia.

My excitement for the adventure my husband and I are about to embark on has far outweighed any nerves or sadness up until now. Maybe I was tucking all the fear and grief and anxiety into a box as easily as I packed our apartment. Cocooned in bubblewrap and triple-taped so it can’t burst free until I’m ready to unpack it all. Maybe it didn’t feel real, until I found myself surrounded by boxes and drinking water from a solo cup. Regardless, I’ve been able to avoid the harder feelings, but now that the move is here, so are they.

Don’t get me wrong; I am excited. A move like this, to a place that feels random, seems so right. It’s healthy. Adulting. From here, we could go anywhere. And now is the best time, before we are entrenched in careers and surrounded by babies.

But I keep thinking about my college graduation. In a way, this is similar. A huge life change, full of unknowns and fears that friendships will look different when we no longer all live within 5 minutes of each other. At a party just before graduation, one friend — who I met early on freshman year — took my hand and said “we’ve been friends for FOUR YEARS! That’s so long! I’ve known you longer than most of the people here!” It seemed so epic, and at that time in my life, it was. When I said goodbye to that same friend earlier this week, I felt that same teary nostalgia. I’ve known you longer than most of our friends.

It’s hard saying goodbye to that — in some ways, harder even than leaving my family. I know my mom will drop everything to talk to me whenever I call her, because she’s my mom and that’s what moms do. The dynamics of my family relationships won’t change so drastically. Friends have lives that take precedence. They’ll have babies and buy houses and get married, and my part in their immediate lives will diminish. It won’t be as simple as sending out a group text asking who’s around to hang out this weekend. We’ll have to plan time and take off work and buy plane tickets. Still, I know they’ll be there when I need them, just like I’ll be there for them.

I’ll also miss Virginia. I know on the trips I’ve taken to Missouri, I’ve thought it looks fairly similar, but I’ll miss walking along the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria, or watching the planes take off and land from Gravelly Point, or easy “hikes” along Skyline Drive or Great Falls Park. It’s been nice to go back to JMU for Rocktown Beer and Music Festivals or for Homecoming or just to reminisce. Even though we rarely took advantage, having D.C. so close has always been a tantalizing option for food or sports or fun.

So even though I’m truly looking forward to the adventure of discovering a new place — even though I have dozens of things to do already listed — it’s hard leaving this beautiful state that’s been my home in every sense of the word for nearly my entire life.