It all began on Hope Street

Hope Street, 1998

I’m leaning over my daughter’s crib, daring to get my nose as close to her head as possible, in order to imbibe her baby fragrance.

Today, like any day with a two-month old, included its share of unhappy baby wails, new-mama exasperation, and waylaid plans. But since finding her thumb a week ago, my daughter has been a champion sleeper, granting some margin for gratitude, hope.

img_6032Heady with baby aura, I lower an ear, holding my breath so I can hear hers. It’s deep and slow, with a slight rattle in her throat. While listening, I’ve almost forgotten to breathe for myself, as if she could for both of us.

Straightening up, I take a long pull of oxygen that fills my body with a momentary energy. I marvel at the duplicity of motherhood. My daughter and I are always linked, but also separate. It’s a concept I’m just beginning to grasp—to grieve and also to welcome with a tinge of relief. The inner struggle of motherhood has already begun.

I gently place my hand on my baby’s silky head, fingers following the curve of her skull as if to cradle it, wondering what seeds lie sleeping in that head, waiting to unfurl and carry her from crib to bed and into the world.

My heart forms a wordless prayer—one that’s open-ended enough to remind me that my love and her autonomy are not mutually exclusive, not even now, while she depends on me for everything, my milk her only food.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Race Street, 2004

I’ve finished unpacking yet another box of kitchen miscellany, trying to find space in a half-sized kitchen for things I rarely use—a large funnel, a hard-boiled-egg slicer, a pastry cutter.

Trying to find room for the unessential seems to be a theme in my life as of late. Over the weekend, I moved into a duplex—half of a house, for half of a parenting team in possession of half of the books, furniture, and art.

Since the divorce, I feel less sad, but more overwhelmed. My two girls, just six and four, are so busy, full of thoughts and ideas, calls for help, emotions that require extra patience, consistency, and love, and I’m wasting time staring at the contents of my former kitchen, wondering if I’ll use a funnel in the next year.

Today, bedtime couldn’t have come soon enough. But now, two hours after singing one last song and flourishing one last “tickle-scratch” on each back, I miss them.

In their dim bedroom, I carefully step around boxes they were told to “unpack” after dinner. My earlier annoyance with the mess melts into understanding: Unpacking inspired play—happy reunions with toys they hadn’t seen for a week, opportunities to pretend being teachers and mamas who take on challenges, fix problems, and comfort hurts.

Standing by their bunk bed, taking in one sweet face then the other, I still feel the ache of missing them. Am I missing the babies and toddlers they were? Or is the missing in anticipation of the day these daughters, fully grown, will sleep under roofs other than mine?

I decide I’m missing the busy, silly, awake versions of my sleeping girls. And I’m tempted to wake them up, but I know better, so I kiss each girl’s temple and take myself to bed.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Oregon Street, 2011

Jason and I can’t keep our eyes open. So this is what it feels like to be old, we joke, setting down our books to move from the sofa up the stairs to bed.

For years we’ve been the last ones up each night at our house, but these days it’s a toss-up. Our oldest two girls are legitimate teenagers, at 15 and 13, with busy after-school schedules and stacks of homework crowding their evenings. Our youngest, at 11, is developing into a night owl—the one who’s forever begging to read “just one more chapter!”

On the landing at the top of the stairs, we begin our nighttime rounds, noting the knotted brow of our oldest, my stepdaughter, as she tackles advanced math, then calming the chatter of our middle-schooler, who somehow has several hours of life to update us on, even though we last talked less than an hour ago.

We gently scold the youngest for not turning off her light when we told her to, but night owls will be night owls. This is not our battle. I smooth her hair and hum the song I rocked her to each night as a baby.

In our own bed, Jason and I share a weary high five and a kiss before turning out our lights. We’ve completed another day of “doing our best” as parents, even though what’s “best” has become increasingly fuzzy.

All we know for sure is things are getting real. Before our eyes, all of the knowledge fragments we’ve dispensed along the way have become a collection of tools our children are ad-libbing with out in the world. Each bit of freedom and autonomy, while terrifying for us, is an opportunity for them to practice and learn. We can’t stop any of it—they’re already on their way.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Orchard Street, 2016

I set down my mug of rooibos, tucking a bookmark between pages so I can reach my phone, which just buzzed at me from the coffee table. It’s a text from my oldest daughter whose mind is fixed on the many plans she has for Thanksgiving break, her first week home since moving to college. Smiling, I thumb a response. She’s always had so many ideas and plans—they just keep getting bigger as she becomes more capable of making them happen on her own.

The oldest of our three is also off at college, pursuing a science degree and being a wise, steady support system for the students on her floor, where she serves as RA.

Only our youngest still occupies one of the bedrooms upstairs. She’s now in possession of a driver’s license, along with the new level of autonomy it brings. After years of playing taxi, I’m still surprised when she arrives home on her own from her favorite cafe, as she does now. Plopping next to me on the sofa, she pulls the edge of my afghan across her lap, offering her back for a tickle-scratch before bed.

Kissing my daughter’s head as she says goodnight, I realize it’s time for me to think about bed, too. Just one more chapter.

As I turn another page, my phone interrupts with another text, this time from the bedroom above me.

Are you super busy or could you come play with my hair for a couple of minutes? I can’t sleep. And I miss you.

I miss her, too, I think, setting down my book, mid-chapter. I miss them all—even if they’re not mine to hold back, just to encourage forward. Switching off the lamps, I climb the stairs to my baby girl’s room.

Whistle Stop

When I was seven, my family moved from California to Washington State. At that age, you don’t question why the palm trees are turning to evergreens, or why there is suddenly snow. You accept it. Sometimes I miss the days of taking the hand of change willingly and giving it a squeeze, already thinking about the fun in store for us together.

I’d always shared a room with my younger brother, but in the new house, we had our own rooms. Mine had red carpet and two closets. From time to time, I would rig one of them up as a cave or outer spaces, using my trusty tape recorder and a few well chosen props. Tights from the clothes bar were stalactites and I always included a flashlight for closer examination. Mostly though, I would count on my audience to picture the asteroid fields, or the underground rivers. Once ready, I would send my mom or brother into the closet, turn on the tape recorder and wait expectantly for their reactions. During the day, I loved the idea of a room all my own, with a lock on the door. Still, at night, I wanted someone to talk to, I hated being alone.

But, I was a big girl. I was old enough to have my own room. It was something prized by all of the little girls in the books I loved to read. It signaled that they were their own people, and as they grew up, more exciting things were going to start happening to them. In those days, everything was linear. I fully expected that I would go from my own room to becoming a babysitter, driving my own car, and spending evenings with a high school boyfriend who called on my landline and kissed me at the movies.

At night, I tried to focus on the plan. I needed to stay in bed, there was nothing to be scared of. The girls in my books didn’t get scared for no reason, they weren’t afraid to be alone in the dark. I couldn’t see my beautiful red carpet, or take comfort in my brother’s even breathing. The normally inaudible sound of the living room clock sounded ominous, and every creak signaled an intruder.

My fears were not helped by the fact that someone did break into that first Spokane house. We weren’t home at the time, but when we returned from the store and found the door open, the smell of cigarette smoke still hung in the air. It seemed perilously close to danger, to what I’d always feared would happen. My parents kept saying that they were thankful that the thief had only taken things, that we were all safe, but they took more than things, they took away my ability to whisper in the middle of the night: “Nothing bad will happen.” The red carpet did not stop calamity.

Whistle StopIn that house, we lived close to a set of train tracks. At first, I noticed every time they sounded their whistle, but after a while, it became part of the soundtrack of my life, so woven into the texture of my days that I would never have mentioned it. It would have been like mentioning that my eyes were green.

It was different at night. There were few sounds in our neighborhood, but I would strain to listen for an intruder or an animal. I contemplated which of my closets to hide in, should the worst happen. I wondered how expensive it would be to turn one of them into an elevator that could take me to the roof in times of trouble. Then a train would go by.

When the whistle danced into the night, it felt like a secret message for me. The blasts were long and shrill, sometimes they almost sounded hoarse. The tension in my chest would ease and I would start breathing normally again. No matter how fast my thoughts were running, they would slow, settling into a comfortable rhythm.

When we moved from that house, away from the train tracks, I worried about the quiet nights. What would I do in the new house, the new room, to combat my fear? I put on my pajamas and settled in to sleep, apprehensive. The whistle blew, more faintly, but I could still hear it. It filled my ears with an audible warmth. This whistle was lower, a closer cousin to a foghorn than my wooden train whistle. I still can’t tell you where the train tracks were near that house, but they were close enough. I fell asleep, lulled by the familiar sound in a new place.

Once I started treating my anxiety, my therapist and I quickly realized that I’m quick to jump to the worst case scenario. I wanted, I still want, to go back and comfort that little girl, but sometimes I’m not sure what I’d tell her. “I made it this far,” I could say. “I’m still scared sometimes.” I’ve learned that life isn’t linear, that the job and the boyfriend don’t follow having your own room. That sometimes the thing you feared the most happens, and you survive. I’ve learned that even if you pride yourself on being deeply logical, you can be calmed by something that has nothing to do with you, something that never promised to keep you safe. Even now, in bed with my lights out, when I hear a train whistle, the tension drains from my body. I accept that I am safe, and go to sleep.

cara YAH bio

Winding Clocks

The world looked calm and vivid and possible.
~ A. Alvarez

The New Year brought sun. I awake to a teeny rainbow projected on our bedroom wall, courtesy of the light reflected off a prism-shaped rod hanging from our blinds. Even with the blinds closed, the light peeks through, catching a corner of crystal and bending, working its magic on the morning. It is joy.

I go through the rest of the house opening blinds, and a memory comes to me of Mom and her morning routine. Mom in her robe and slippers, hair still up in bobby pins, lighting lamps, opening drapes, winding old clocks with old keys. She’s done this every day for umpteen years, and today I see her again heading for the fireplace, finding the key, removing the glass dome, winding the back of the clock. Two or three turns, maybe it was more. I begin to wonder: What became of that old clock?

That bright, January morning I find myself wondering about other things, as well. About what it was like to be in the home she loved, in the neighborhood that was just right, in the middle of the family that depended on her. What was it like to leave all that and start over at age seventy?

Mom did not say. I’m sure she felt she didn’t have to. She probably sold the old clock, along with the baby grand and organ and other things she loved, including the house, in order to make way for the next stage of her life. The car would go next, and, with it, a lot of her independence. I’m not sure she was sad to see them go, but I’m not sure she wasn’t. Mom did not say.

If Mom was making a statement by selling away her former life, item by item, it was totally lost on me. In 1996 I was only forty-two, so I was young. I still had a few kids at home, and one about to be married. Yes I remember 1996, not because of what was happening to me but more because of what was happening around me. But time has moved us along and now I have a “child” the same age as I was back when Mom sold the family home along with most of its contents and moved into a retirement village. Mom made a decision to change her life. It was her decision to make, even if none of us kids agreed or understood.

Doreen2And believe me, we didn’t.

Oh, we made our opinions known. We argued with the folks. Mom was not interested in our opinions, nor was Dad, who seemed content to simply do it Mom’s way for once.

Now time has moved us all on. Twenty years have come and gone and I’m the mom making life-changing moves that are probably quite curious to my children. My grown children who argue with me. And make their opinions known.

And do I listen to them? Yes. And no. Because of Mom I’ve been educated into the world of moving on. Mom was strong enough to do what she felt she needed to, even if we saw it as giving up something she loved. I’m the same girl she raised and then let go, I’m the daughter always reaching for more life, not less.

Perhaps I still don’t understand why Mom wanted to let go of the old house, but then I don’t really need to know. I knew Mom. I know myself. And that’s all that’s needed.

 *  *  *  *  *

DoreenFrick“Winding Clocks” is by Doreen Frick, a 61-year-old Baby Boomer who was born in Philadelphia. She moved away in 1976 (at age 22) to live in a bus in Washington State (see her book, Hodgepodge Logic). In doing so, she looked at life through a whole new set of values and with a whole new appreciation for the place of her youth. This year, she again pulled up roots and moved, this time to the Heartland. Doreen lives in Ord, Nebraska and has been published at Boomer Cafe.


Ash and Light

Sometime in between “we are through” and actually being through, I got a new job and moved to “his town,” the town where my (now ex-) boyfriend lived during part of the time we were dating. He lived in an apartment above a store that sold brightly colored men’s suits. One of a handful of stores and restaurants in the downtown main street square of a small Georgia town.

After I moved there, I drove downtown and parked in one of the nose-in angled spots on the street where he used to stand by my car and kiss me good-bye. I strolled past the storefronts, saw the entrance to the apartments above with the push button intercom where I would call up and he’d buzz me in. He was no longer there but that was his building. Up those stairs, we would laugh and talk and I would roll my eyes at his corny puns. On the nights we watched a movie, cuddled on the couch, he’d stand up as the credit music began to play and offer me his hand, pulling me into a slow dance under the skylight above our heads.


A couple of months after he moved away from that town and our relationship gained geographical distance, he called me one weekend to say he was in town. He wasn’t there to see me, not specifically anyway. There had been a small fire at his old apartment. The landlord had called him. I was confused as to why he was notified, why any of his stuff was there.

“Oh. I just kept renting the apartment,” he said.

By this point in the relationship I was used to convincing myself to believe what he said. Used to ignoring questions in my gut and flipping down red flags. So, I accepted the explanation and jumped straight into planning when and where to meet up for an impromptu date, swept up in the romance of the unexpected.


That day I moved to the town there was still a long aluminum chute that emptied into a dumpster hanging from one of the back windows of his building, evidence of the fire clean up.

I stared at it – wondering what blackened belongings of his had been thrown down it.  Did the couch where we dreamed about the future survive or was it in ashes?  What was left of the kitchen counter where I would sit and listen to him narrate his way through preparing dinner as if he had his very own Food Network show?

The last few months he lived in that apartment I was never inside of it. He called me one day and won my heart a little more by saying, “I think we should make sure that we don’t hang out alone in my apartment anymore. I want to be better at honoring you.” Reluctantly, but admiringly, I agreed. I treasured his leadership in our relationship.   “Honoring,” in our shared vocabulary at the time, meant no more kissing (or more) in private.

I had been raised to believe that men lead and pursue and I wait and follow. I was told that a godly man would lead in godly ways.  More than one youth group story had centered on a young man who went to pick up his date and then turned around and left when he saw her, because he was lusting so they needed to not spend time together in order to honor God.  And here I was with my very own godly leader who put God above me.

Yet there was that aluminum chute and a dumpster full of ash and rubbish.

I wondered what belongings of hers were in the dumpster. The other girlfriend that had moved in a few months before he left. The one that stayed to finish out the year at her teaching job while he took his new job a few hours away. The one who called and told him about the fire. The woman he was living with while he was “honoring” me.


After the fire but before I knew about the other woman, I called him and choked out, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t feel like this anymore.”

“Are you breaking up with me?” he asked, surprised.

“Yes.” He didn’t fight, he just got mad and hung up.

I blamed myself. Over and over, the same message played in my mind: I wasn’t strong enough to make the distance work, to make him work.  After trying for years,  I was tired.

A couple weeks later, he called and renewed my hope by saying he wanted me back. I drove two hours to surprise him, my stomach in knots the entire way down because subconsciously I knew the one who was more likely to be surprised was me. I needed to not be able to lie to myself anymore. I needed to physically see and hear and know so that I could move on.

A woman yelled from inside for him to answer the door. With wide eyes he called inside to her, “It’s someone from work! I’ll be back!”

creative commons free - unsplashWe sat near a river bank and I watched with the muddy water flow by as he told me that he chose her, that he wanted someone who was physically close, that the long distance was too much.

“Why didn’t you just break up with me?” I questioned.

“I didn’t want to hurt you,” he said.

I drove home in tears. Mad at him. Mad at God. Mad at myself because the signs littered the road for the past three years.


I stayed in my new, his old, town for two and a half years. The aluminum chute was still there when I left.  

He visited once.  I visited once.  He called often.  I blocked and unblocked his number. He stayed with the other woman. He told me I was better than her. I begged him to let me be, to let me go. I told him I didn’t know how to walk away. I was addicted.

My brain  didn’t know how to stop forgiving him, to stop believing that the good outweighed the bad, to stop my heart from trusting that things would improve and that my fantasy would come true.

I didn’t reclaim that town those years. I didn’t even reclaim my life.


Ten years after the fire, I drove through that town again. The aluminum chute was gone. In the years between, I had learned to sort truth from lie from unknown in the jumbled web of memories from the years spent with him.  I had quit my addiction and gained a clarity about myself that is perhaps only possible when forged in fire.


Nicole bio YAH


An Unmatched Life

At 15, I read in a home décor magazine that you were only supposed to fill things two-thirds full in order for it to look neat and orderly. So when I got my new bedroom at 16, a room I helped build on to the house, I intentionally left some of the walls and closet shelf space empty to try and create that feel.

Once the room was finished, I picked a blue-floral bedspread and curtains from the J.C. Penney catalog and took a pillowcase to Home Depot to have the color matched. I sponged the gray-blue paint onto the baseboard and molding before we nailed it to the walls.

I was trying to keep it all together, I think. Trying to make it right. I am the child of a parent with chronic mental and physical illnesses. As a child, that meant taking on the responsibility of taking care. I wanted things stable and orderly and, above all, correct.

For a few years before I moved to college my junior year, those empty spaces and coordinating color scheme were a retreat. The aesthetics calmed and centered me.




My first apartment

After landing a full-time job after college, I moved into my first all-my-own apartment. I dove into decorating it just the way I wanted. Things matched less, but they still coordinated. I bought sofas and curtains, lamps and end tables brand-new from the store. I wanted it decorated and soon. I bought fabric and made my own upholstered headboard and hunted down antique picture frames for the walls of my bedroom.  I took a page from an interior design magazine and recreated a wall collage behind my dining room table.

When Christmas came, I bought new decorations that sparkled and shone in perfect complement to my décor.

It was common for me to lock myself in my apartment from the time I got home from work on Friday until I left for work on Monday. “Introvert re-charge,” I would say. And sometimes that is needed. But in truth, it was easier to just stay in, not interact with anyone, and piddle away on some new home décor project. I even started a short-lived blog full of recipes and decorating tips.


When I was 29, I moved into graduate on-campus housing, complete with an R.A. and roommates. The apartments were built in the 1930s and, aside from the random rules that come with campus housing, I rather enjoyed the cozy wood floors and the old bathroom mirror with the flower scroll etched across the glass.

Perhaps the thing I was most nervous about as I prepared to move to grad school was that my home would feel like a dorm. That I would feel like a kid. I was afraid of ugly furniture and plastic storage bins and cramped spaces. I was afraid it was all going to feel like a mess.

And things didn’t matchexcept for the industrial, boxy, bedroom furniture. My bedspread was black and white, my roommate’s was bright neon colors. The bathroom linen closet was stocked with a haphazard collection of multi-colored towels in various states of wear. The empty wall of the small galley kitchen was a jigsaw puzzle of mismatched shelves holding extra dishes and cookbooks and pantry staples. Every third of the bedroom walls were lined with furniture. Desk, dresser, bed, repeat. Shelves were stuffed full of textbooks and binders and picture frames of family and friends in other states. There was no money to spend on new, matching furniture. There was too little space for all of my things.

Yet, that apartment was home to one of my most well-lived years. There was nothing more satisfying than to find the sink full of mismatched coffee mugs, evidence of another night of friends studying together or talking.

Mismatched Dinner Table

An Easter table

On Sunday evenings, friends and neighbors gathered and we made dinner. One person would cook, filling the small sink of the small kitchen with pans and cutting boards and wooden spoons.Then we’d eatmismatched chairs crowded around a table with mismatched glasses in front of matching plates, the thin blue and white Corelle dishes I had inherited from my grandmother.  

As the year went on, dining together just became a habit, no matter the meal.  We had a French toast feast as the snow piled deep outside. On the days it never stopped raining, there was a crock pot of soup ready and warm.  We decided JFK’s Birthday needed celebrating, so we researched and recreated his favorite meal.  One warm night, we picked up a few “gourmet” ingredients from the grocery store, put on a record of classical music, opened all the windows, and laughed and talked and ate as the cross breeze drifted through our impromptu dinner party in that mismatched, unrefined, no-color-palette home.  

That year, we managed to live life together instead of just being roommates or neighbors. It happened with overcrowded shelves and walls and it never once felt like a mess.


Nicole bio YAH

While We’re Renting


Old houses have a way of making themselves dirty, they crumble pieces of rusty radiators and cracking tile grout. My husband and I rent a place like this. In beams of sunlight, I can track fuzzy dust trails intertwined with all kinds of hairs and particles from disintegrating flooring. Clumps cling to the baseboards and slip under doorways, blown by invisible air currents.

After living here for well over a year, certain quirks get my particular attention. I can get quite distracted by the kitchen flooring, a 1980s white linoleum that turns mop heads and rags black, even on the tenth scrub. The dirt captured by its textured surface has been sealed in by grease and time, yielding just enough to fool me into thinking I’ve made progress by attacking it on hands and knees.

Under the cabinets, the edge of the linoleum curls up, a page of history begging to be turned. Splattered, brown grime creeps up in the crevice between the base of the cabinets and the well-worn flooring. This inevitably sends me into panic, a deep heaving, sweaty fear of mold and the other things that lurk in nooks and crannies.

We have made small improvements on the house, ones that seem appropriate for those only leasing the property. There’s the shower; I cried the first time I used it. We worked for hours with an X-ACTO knife to remove the floral grips someone had stuck on the floor of the tub now outlined with black and dark shades of green. Drew squirted a squiggly line of caulk over the deep crack between the tub and shower wall.

IMG_2120We tackled the back porch in the spring, removing the calico of welcome mats and rugs covering the floor and stapling down a single sheet of indoor/outdoor carpeting. We’ve replaced the light fixture in the bathroom, painted a yellow stripe around the wall in the dining room, and hung some heavy shelves on the plaster walls. And yet, sometimes even our elbow grease seems too much to give to this place that isn’t ours. The landlord seems determined to run his property into the ground, which is working because some of the house is literally sinking.

I tire of the sense that I live a collapsible life, the kind I’ve lived since leaving for college. My existence feels cobbled together from Swedish-named IKEA parts, propped up picture frames, and other signs that I will leave each room without a trace.

We will be renting for a long time. Financial experts have advised some millennials to never buy at all, offering online calculators and formulas to figure out if owning property makes sense in their financial bracket and geographical location.

But, I was raised to want land. I’m a midwestern girl, descended from European immigrants clamoring for a new start and middle American farmers who didn’t have running water, but owned a homestead and a clump of pear trees. The residue of my ancestors’ dreams still course through my veins, and before we go to bed each night, I speak of a future home like a promised land: “When we own a house someday…”

And now a baby is entering into this equation, and I’m more lost than ever. In the early days of sickness and fatigue, I’d lie in bed unable to tend to the everyday messes of dishes and dirty clothes. I watched shows on television where families knocked down walls and pried up carpet floors, installing subway tile backsplashes and farm basin sinks.

I’d walk into our kitchen holding my breath to avoid the odor of the rotting vegetables going to waste from our CSA due to the preferences of my nausea-riddled stomach. I couldn’t even take care of this place, it’s crumbs growing greater than its charms. I resisted planning the nursery. I resisted the stacks of paper and piles of former teaching supplies. I refused to make this home.

But a few weeks ago, a dear professor passed away at forty two, reminding me that we are all renters on this earth, exiles planting gardens and pouring cement foundations for temporary shelters. The night after Dr. Foster died, I moved closer to Drew in our bed, suddenly feeling like this might be our last moment on earth.IMG_1556

I realized how much I’ve held myself back from the places I’ve rented, refusing to be wasteful with transient things. But perhaps, in doing so, I’ve been truly wasteful, letting days and years slip through my fingers.

I lay my palm across Drew’s chest and in his sleep, he lays his palm over mine. I feel his inhale and exhale of breath. Home is here, this bed could be anywhere.

Why do I worry about the peeling linoleum or whether it’s worth it to paint the walls grey? Moving is in the future, now we are here, now I’m feeling Drew’s heartbeat and hearing the faint beginnings of his snoring. Part of me wants to stay up all night, feeling life in my love, but my pregnant body grows tired of my left side.

I pry my hand from his sleepy grip and turn over, now listening for the rise and fall of my own breathing. As I drift off to sleep, time seems such a fleeting thing, and I resolve to make this our home, even if it feels like we’re squatters.

Let’s dig a hole in the back yard, I think,  and lose our security deposit because we danced so much on the floors they’ve bowed under the weight of our living and breathing. Let’s carve our names in the closet and leave the baby’s height etched into a doorway. Let someone else paint over our memories, let them last for a second as we throw the dust of this life as confetti.



Meredith bio YAH

My Town

When I was seven, my parents packed up two U-Hauls, myself and my 5-year-old brother. We drove three days from San Diego, my birthplace, to our new home in Spokane, Washington.

Spokane is on the eastern side of Washington State, the side everyone forgets is here. Around election season, the majority put up conservative signs. On this side of the Rockies, there is a desert. It rains, but not frequently.

For a long time, I thought that I would grow up and move away from Spokane. Before college I was in love with the idea of moving to Paris and writing in cafés like Hemingway. Instead, after a short stint working full time in a grocery store, I went to college in the middle of the corn fields of Indiana.

I thought that I would marry my college boyfriend and we would settle in Chicago. The city seemed larger than life to me, sticky, with hard edges. Chicago wasn’t my kind of town, but I was in love for the first time. I would have followed that love anywhere, long after he broke my heart.  

Instead, I moved back to Spokane once more. I worked at a local winery high on a hill, and at nearly every library in the county. I covered restaurants and chefs for a local magazine. I made friends and ran into people I’d known longer than a decade at the grocery store. I began to move through the city like an adult, finding my way through familiar pathways of my youth.  

From time to time, I would chat with my therapist about moving to a bigger city, hoping it might increase my chances of meeting someone I’d like to date. Twice, I contemplated moving to Portland, both times for a boy.

The second time, I almost succeeded. I had a job and a house secured. In the days and weeks before I was meant to go, I found myself craving a chicken chipotle sandwich from Rockwood Bakery, a coffee shop where my brother used to work, and a place I’ve never been to without running into someone I know. I bought one and cried as I ate it on my porch, thinking about what a long drive it might be the next time I had a craving. I wanted to buy several of their quiches and freeze them so that I could warm one up when I needed to taste home.

IMG_3586I worked toward overcoming my fear of parallel parking so that I could wander downtown. I wanted to lay eyes on places I hadn’t been for a while. I wanted to fix them firmly into my memory so that I could carry them with me when I left.

Friends hosted their annual garden party in their backyard while the chickens were shut up tightly so they didn’t mingle with the guests. I held two brand new babies, one of them for hours, even though my arms ached. I knew that even if I came home once a month as I’d planned, to write my food articles, she would still be much older the next time I saw her. I squeezed just a little tighter.

That same baby fell asleep on my shoulder at brunch next to a sunlit window the week before I was supposed to move. My anxiety was speaking to me that day, throwing everything into sharp relief. I held that baby close, not wanting to let go even as we stood next to her ready carseat. My friend kissed my cheek and hugged me tightly, tearful, her daughter squashed between us.

Maybe it’s always hard to move, even when you are doing the right thing, but in those days and moments, I wondered.

I had only to throw my clothes in the car when the relationship slipped through my fingers, leaving me to decide whether I would stay or go. After a dark, sleepless night, I wrote two emails and a text. I cancelled my move.

Not everyone understood my decision. I can’t tell you how many people asked me why I hadn’t gone through with my big adventure. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that moving wasn’t the adventure at all. Falling in love has always been where I get my thrills.

Almost moving was a strange experience.

It was several weeks after the aborted move when I told my therapist I wanted to stay in Spokane. “I’ve been afraid,” I told her. “I’ve been afraid to love this place because I thought it was a good place to grow up, to raise a family, but not to meet someone I might love.” She nodded, because we’d had this conversation many times. “I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I want to dig my feet in like roots.” Finally, I unclenched my hands and let Portland fall. Spokane reached for my hands and held them warmly.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a historic event in Spokane. Our mayor was reelected for the first time in 42 years. He’s a friend of mine, and I love the look on people’s faces when I walk right up to him and give him a hug in social settings. He has a tagline: “This is my town.” I found myself whispering those words at the election party as I raised a glass of red in celebration.

Even now they wander through my head as I drive to the bank or the grocery store, or take an evening walk along the ridge near my house at sunset.

This is my town, I think, and I mean every word.

cara YAH bio

Where Are You From?

“This is my sixth time at this conference. Why do I have the jitters?”

I fired a short, honest tweet into the digital atmosphere, took a deep breath, and stepped into the halls of a Disney World convention center I knew so well. I scanned the crowd, simultaneously hoping to spot a friendly face and remain invisible until I got my bearings. My name badge displays a new city, a new company, and, oddly, my old name: Jen Rose.

The last time I was here, I was telling my engagement story and showing off a ring to anyone who asked. Two years later, marriage has changed more than a few things, but my former last name remains. Now it’s a radio name, belonging to a character on this networking stage.

Once I settled into the energy of the conference, I felt more like my past self. I spent the weekend laughing at old jokes with friends I grew up with, meeting newcomers, and struggling to give a short answer to every stranger who asked, “So, where are you from?”

IMG_6982“Well, I’m from here, Orlando, originally. But now I live in Massachusetts.” And I wondered every single time if that’s the right answer, if there even is a right answer.

Where are you from? Is it really where you traveled from? Because I’m definitely not from New England. Or is it where you work and live now? Is it the airport I flew from, Providence, Rhode Island, another state entirely? Do I tell them where my employer is – a small and sort of new CHR station in Worcester – or that I work from my apartment in another city over an hour away? I used to tell people I was from Orlando, but I actually lived in a small town an hour away. So should I tell them I’m from Boston because it’s a major point of reference and the only city most people out of state know of? No, definitely not.

Having two homes is weird.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s been about a year and a half since I said “I do,” packed up whatever could fit in a suitcase or the trunk of my Honda Civic, and moved into a third floor apartment 1,200 miles away from everything I had known. And since the day I arrived I’ve been wrestling with ideas of home and finding my place. Friends and family ask if I’m feeling at home yet, and I say yes. It’s partially true. I can get around without a GPS most of the time, I have favorite coffee shops, and I can finally pronounce some complicated Massachusetts town names.

And yet, still the displacement. Still the realization that I can’t go back to the past. And sometimes, the nagging voice that says “You’re different. You’re not from here.”

In some ways, the voice is right. This will never quite be home. That isn’t resistance to change, or bitterness, or resignation. It’s truth. And it brings some comfort.

IMG_6905The biggest move of my husband’s life was from the house he grew up in to our current apartment, eight blocks down the road. He’s a New Englander through and through. The rhythm of the seasons, the cadence of the language, the pride in the land and its history are all a part of who he is, and loving him teaches me to love this place more. So in a way, with him, this is truly home.

As for me… well, I can’t turn back time and grow up here. I can’t transplant my family, can’t rewrite history so my New Englander grandfather never married an Alabama girl and worked out his days in the orange groves of Florida. I can’t, and I’d never want to. The rhythms, seasons, culture, and history of my homeland have shaped me into the person I am, and though I never fully appreciated it then, I do now, every time I catch a glimpse of palm trees outside an airplane window and relearn how to breathe the heavy tropical air.

And you know, that’s okay. Home can be in two places, even many places. Home is where we first spring from seeds, and it’s where we replant our roots. But we still reach for the sun, for something more, for the home still coming, someday.

*  *  *  *  *

 Jen Rose“Where Are You From?” was written by Jen Rose Yokel. Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. She’s a poet, a radio nerd, and a regular contributor to The Rabbit Room. When not writing, she enjoys frequenting coffee shops, hunting down used books and vinyl records, and exploring nature with her husband Chris. You can find her thoughts and poems at and see pictures of mostly food and trees on her Instagram @jen_rose.

Finding Hope in the Depths of a Woodpile

After “The Move,” we found our way to a small doublewide trailer in the shallow hills of central Pennsylvania, only a few miles from where I had grown up. When we moved in, small patches of ice and snow still resided in the shadows. The forest that stretched up the hill away from the house was bone-bare and brown. The birds were just beginning to find their way through the thaw.

It was the opposite of the neighborhood we had left. It was not glitzy or fashionable. We were not surrounded by cars and people. When we drove down the gravel driveway, slowing for the deeper potholes, we were not in awe of the material success of those around us.IMG_0078

But it was beautiful. And peaceful. We found healing there on quiet afternoons as Maile made supper and the kids’ voices ricocheted back at us through the valley. Lines of geese stretched across the sky and slipped through the dusk, circling, then dropping into neighboring fields.

Everyone, everything, it seemed, was returning home.

* * * * *

The first spring there, we decided we were farmers. We planted a massive garden in the back yard, turning over the deep green grass, exposing rich, brown earth. Anything could grow in that soil. Even hope.

The second spring, having conquered the gardening aspect of life, we turned to raising chickens. We bought them at a local feed store and took them home in a cardboard box with perforated holes in it. So they could breathe. We promptly settled them in large plastic container in the kitchen, and, with the help of a heat lamp and a small feeding system, managed to get them alive through spring.

I don’t know exactly when it was that the chickens started laying eggs, but they did, and we enjoyed them. The kids brought back four brown eggs a day to the house, holding each like a small miracle. By the time fall arrived, they were free range chickens and we lost track of where they were laying their eggs.

We searched the bushes, the woods, the underside of our doublewide. No luck. Leaves blew in sporadic gusts down the hill. We wondered if they had stopped laying because of the cold. We wondered if animals were getting to the eggs before we could. We kept looking.

* * * * *

When we had to leave our home in Virginia, it felt like all the good things had gone missing. Our church, our friends, our future: all of it up and evaporated in the time it took to drive 200 miles north. And for a little while we stopped believing good things could last. We stopped looking for them.

A quick internet search had taken us to that doublewide. My father happened to know the owner. We didn’t recognize it at the time, but being able to move into that quiet space was the first hint of goodness returning.

* * * * *

One day my daughter Abra, three or four years old at the time, came running inside, shouting to anyone who would listen. She hopped up and down and in each of her hands she held an egg.

“Where did you find those?” I asked.IMG_0068

We followed her outside and through the yard to a woodpile the landlord had made from the branches of a fallen tree. Abra climbed back behind the wood and pointed.

There, in a small bowl-shaped space in the depths of the woodpile, lay at least two dozen eggs. It was cold, so they hadn’t gone bad. We used a tongs to reach in and take out each little miracle, one by one.

* * * * *

As the months passed, I found work. We settled into a routine and made new friends. We found a church to call home. The things we had lost in Virginia would not be replaced, but there were good things to be found, even in that new place.

It can sometimes be hard to believe there is still good in the world. It can be so hard to find, especially after The Move or The Diagnosis or The Divorce. But it’s still there. We might not be ready to discover it right away, but the world will thaw, and the good will appear in the most unlikely of places.

We only lived in the doublewide for two years. If you ask any of our children which of our many locations has been their favorite house, each one will tell you that one was it. It’s where we landed in our hurt. It’s where we healed as a family. It’s where we started to find goodness in what had at first seemed a terrible gift.

* * *

shawn bio YAH

Where the Heart Was

Home is the grit and gray of streets and parking lots and the widest freeway in the world. It’s being glad for a commuter train, so you can read while you sit in traffic. It’s the surprise of one of the largest urban parks in the United States, offering green respite. It’s watching the trails in that park erode,  years of play degrading into memory.

In the fall, after 32-and-a-half years in my hometown, I left in a rented truck with husband, dogs, bicycles, and a few scraps more, for a 2500-mile move to the north.

Here in this place, everything is different. Things I thought I knew slipped away when I wasn’t looking.

This place is beautiful. I ride my bike from the house to views that evoke the word ‘pastoral’: cornfields and rolling green hills and a giant, weathered white barn etched against an enormous blue sky, wrinkled mountains lining the eastern horizon.

This place is about as diverse as vanilla ice cream, and as sticky-sweet. When I travel through a nearby metropolis, I get harassed the moment I step off the train: ah, the anonymity of the city. It’s not that I miss being cat-called. But in the way that a survivor of abuse places herself in abusive relationships, I suppose the familiar–even the unpleasant familiar–offers some brand of comfort. I didn’t know I missed the sound of sirens til I heard one and noticed how odd it sounded.

In the winter, 936774_10201102501273563_1510282701_nI traveled back south, to revisit places and people I know, love, and miss. Already home was a place I could not access, although I was comforted by a Southern drawl, a Cajun twang, an East Texas pacing of speech. The molasses air felt like a hug. I swallowed my pride, and told the loved ones I’d abandoned that I had not found eternal happiness in committing this crime against home.

Home is eating out: Mexican or Cajun or Greek or breakfast-all-day or Italian or Indian or Turkish or Vietnamese or sushi or Jamaican or burgers or dirt-cheap, clean, enormous oysters on the half-shell served with a smile and an ice-cold glass bottle of Tecate. Home is hearing many languages, and bilingual street signs, and the good and bad of smelling everybody else’s life and toil on mass transit. Home is people smiling on the sidewalks and saying “excuse me” when you step out of their way, or “thank you” if you hold the door. It’s being asked for change.

In the spring, I reversed direction, to husband and dogs in the north, entering again a vast, coldly beautiful loneliness. “What have I done?” I thought, as I climbed into our new bed in this place. “I’ve killed ‘home’ forever.”

Home is not pretty. It is somber: concrete and steel, cars and smog, flatness and pavement. It is where a friend used the line, “hotter than a fresh-fucked fox in a forest fire,” as we mountain biked in all seasons and the temperature hit three digits in the shade before humidity factored in. But858353_10200727243412351_1337074395_o there was what I called urban scenery: railroad trestles along a bayou with a junkyard in the midground, viewed from a grassy path. Definitely a different kind of picturesque, but a memorable picture nonetheless.

In the summer, I remembered home: thick, damp, oven-like air and open, friendly faces on the street, a cacophony of smells–tortillas cooking, Indian spices, garbage, diesel fuel, body odor, stale beer–and multitude of skin tones. Memories as terribly distant as they were deeply felt. I felt tattooed by Houston, as I have been tattooed in Houston, and am tattooed with Houston’s skyline and the shape of the state of Texas. I can’t reach home, even when I’ve had the outline of it permanently inserted under my skin.

Here, the house we inhabit is imperfect, as all houses are. I have been here long enough now to mostly know which light switch does what. Knowing how to make the light shine, for eating, reading, or just dressing myself, has got to be an important step on the journey toward making a home.

It is fall again.


Julia is a book reviewer, librarian, beer drinker, dog lover, mountain biker and native Texan now residing in Bellingham, Washington. She thinks a lot about concepts of place and home. Her favorite color is green.