18: For Life

I’ve had the same best friend since I was thirteen. Before we could drive, we ordered in pizza on Friday nights. We used disposable cameras to snap pictures with the delivery guy and giggled through the aftermath of his reaction. We played Mario Kart in the back bedroom and threatened to call the boys each other liked.

Almost two decades later, every Friday night, we meet for dinner at one of three restaurants in our hometown. We talk about grown-up jobs and our Facebook friends who are having their second baby. We end the night at my mom’s house, raiding the cupboards for homemade dessert and cracking each other up, sprawled across big, leather couches.

We look a little older and occasionally sound a little wiser but everything feels the same as it did 17 years ago.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I mate for life.

With my friends and my summer camp family and what I eat for breakfast.  I’ve bought the same groceries every week since I was 22, and I have a meltdown every time Whole Foods stops selling my favorite peanut butter. I call my mom at the same time every day and we have, pretty much, the same conversation.

I hate change and I fear loss and when something feels right, I do everything I can to make it last forever.

I love the hell out of people, but only once I know they’re a keeper.

Three years ago, on a Friday night, I decided to marry my best friend. Not the lunatic from the pizza delivery photos, the handsome, funny, stylish law student I met in the lobby of the UCLA guest house, two weeks before the start of my second year. That morning, through a slurry of F-bombs and dismissive remarks about the legal profession, I made the worst first impression of my life. My mom, a witness to the disastrous interaction, scolded me for my lack of sophistication, and colorful vocabulary.

“If you want to get a boyfriend, you better clean up your act.”

Months later, Nick forgave me for my unruly mouth and unconventional social skills. We bonded quickly over the perils of growing up wealthy and our shared respect for the virtues of stay-at-home-moms. I made the marriage decision while  sitting cross-legged on his couch, watching him sing and dance through dinner preparation. When he wasn’t looking, I closed my eyes and pictured our life together. Our house was a little bigger, the music louder and there was a dog in my lap.

But it looked and felt just like it did, that night.

And it’s been hard to imagine anything else, ever since.

Year thirty is teaching me about change, flexibility and impermanence. About surrendering, and accepting and learning to “go with the flow.”

Like when I leave the most stagnant profession on earth to explore the wild world of possibility, mobility and a career path I can dream about, but can’t guarantee . Or when I make friends for life at lululemon, then, months later, watch them move across the country, and around the world.

Last week, I spent twenty-four hours with my would-be husband. Seated across from him, on a rustic, sophisticated arm-chair, I remembered the future I’d attached myself to, three years earlier. I looked around his open, neatly appointed, ultra-fancy loft and watched myself disappear from it. I felt myself get swept away in the changing tide of career aspirations and adult values. The life together I saw so clearly, was suddenly foggy, clouded by the people we’d become and the lives we were currently leading.

Tucked into a corner seat on the airport shuttle, I caught up on my work email and reflected on my brief adventure. An uneasiness came over me, like that feeling I get when I first dip my knife into an experimental jar of peanut butter. Newness and expectations and a terrifying sense of “who knows what happens next.”

I tilt my head back on the seat, take a deep breathe and make space for the unknown.

I sit uncomfortably in the emptiness and try to stay open.

For life.

16: Until You Don’t

There’s a mixed CD floating around that I made in the early 2000s. It’s a compilation of powerful, female country artists singing from their broken hearts. There are eighteen tracks. Songs about revenge and sadness and desperation. Lyrics about healing, and recovery and the first time you see your ex. Moments of “I’ll be o.k.” and “I’m moving on” and then, with complete honesty, “I’ll never, get over, you.”

I made it two years after my first, real heart break. I put it together for my college best friend who was on the rebound, from the same guy, for the third time, in four years.

He’s on the short list of people I refuse to forgive, even after ten million hours on my yoga mat.

Two years after that, my best friend since I was thirteen ended a relationship with her live-in boyfriend of five, almost six, years. Theirs was a slow, painful death. It was the kind of disaster that shows up first, way-off in the distance. You see it coming, but refuse to believe it. The dark cloud of the inevitable creeps over the horizon of the rest of your life, constantly threatening to descend on the foreground. Lingering, hovering, dangerously close to ruining everything you know to be true and real and safe.

When it finally arrives it’s like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.

And you’re the last surviving pterodactyl, climbing out of the wreckage.

Amy needed the prehistoric Red Cross, not Martina Mcbride.

But I gave her the CD anyway.

And several years later, she passed it on to someone else.

There’s nothing like a broken heart.

I was twenty-one the first time I felt the big hurt. The pulsing nausea right in the pit of my stomach. The sleeplessness and the loss of appetite. Sneaking around the back patio of Luvalle commons, down the backside of campus, along my secret escape route, because just laying eyes on him, made me sick.

Crying on the phone in the back of my walk-in closet, whispering to my mom so my roommates wouldn’t hear.

The days where it doesn’t hurt as much as it did yesterday and then suddenly, it hurts twice as much as it did any day before.

The getting back together and the breaking up again.

The reliving, and re-telling and the promising myself, I’ll do better next time.

Heartbreak is the feeling that marks the intensity of every other feeling I’ve ever had.

It’s the biggest and the baddest and in the thick of it, I know it will last forever.

But then, it doesn’t.

I missed my college boyfriend every day for a year and a half. Then, one morning, I woke up feeling whole again. I didn’t want to see him and I stopped dreaming of our future together. I took his pictures off my laptop and let go of  our old stories, especially the ones haunting my every attempt to move on.
I couldn’t predict it and I couldn’t explain it. There was no formula, or step by step.

It hurt until it didn’t hurt anymore.

Feelings, for me, are a challenging beast. I want to rope them down and control them. I want to push them aside when they’re interfering with my life. I want to move through them quickly, and when they linger, I  feel frustrated, and helpless, and impatient.

The raw, painful ones are the toughest. I don’t want to make space for the feelings that fill my whole body. I don’t want to “be in it” or “sit with it” or take bigger, deeper breathes. I want to displace them and be distracted. I don’t want to cry and and I don’t want to “talk to someone” about it.

I just want to feel “better” on my own terms.

I discover, over and over, that feelings are a wild animal, and can’t be tamed. They come on strong, or maybe slowly, but always without a formal announcement. They target my heart and the base of my belly, and migrate up my spine, and neck, then, down, deep in my hips.

Sometimes I feel sluggish and out of sorts. Or inexplicably angry at people who’ve done nothing wrong. Other times I feel energized by the  fear that if I stop moving, I’ll fall, immediately, into a bottomless pit of despair.

I struggle to get power over them.

But never come out on top.

In the summer of 2012 I call Amy to track down “that CD” I gave her. My friend just got dumped by the woman he planned to marry, and I’m desperate to throw him a life line.

He’s a broken-winger dinosaur and I am, once again, an inadequate emergency responder.

“I want to fix it, but I don’t know what to do for him.”

She reminds me there’s nothing I can do, for any of it. “It’ll hurt until it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

That’s the thing about feelings- The sad ones and the happy ones; the pure bliss and the darkest hours; the tingle of new love and the dull, low, burn of anxiety and dread. The ones you want to last forever and the ones you hope you never experience again-

You feel them, all of them. Until you don’t.

15: Time to Relax

My stomach is cramping and my eyes are teary. I can’t get out of the fetal position and every time I try to speak, I’m gasping for breath.

It’s like that, with me and my brother. We laugh so hard we cry, and hurt, and can’t move and can’t speak and can’t do anything, but keep laughing.

We’re in a motel room, during a rare moment of downtime, blocks from the entrance to Disneyland park. We’re watching Patrick Ewing being interviewed on T.V and making ridiculous jokes about the Main Street Electrical Parade. It’s the summer before seventh grade and my family is on the last vacation we ever took together.

None of us know how the next two, six, fifteen years, will change us.

We never do.

Every year of my childhood my dad planned an elaborate, intellectually enriching, family vacation. He had the same two weeks off every year, the last week of July, and the first week of August. They were the only consecutive days, all year where I saw my dad for both breakfast and dinner.  The only family movie nights and daytime adventures and father-son time spent without the yelling, and the homework.

We traveled for exactly ten days and covered between five and eight thousand miles, depending on the destination. We’d fly somewhere domestically, then put as many miles on the rental car as the company allowed, before we outright owned the thing.

We visited a museum dedicated to the artwork of Salvador Dali and another showcasing swords from a spectrum of historical eras and geographic locations. We walked inside Louisa May Alcott’s house and the one with the Seven Gables. We learned about the Salem Witch trials and how Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem. There were dinosaur remains and scientific phenomena and alligators, eerily close to us, in the Florida everglades. Exotic fish and rare, northwestern mega-fauna, and every Smithsosonian there is, in a single day.

All before I was 12 years old.

In high school, when most of my friends failed it,  I got a “5” on the AP history exam for no reason other than I walked all two and a half miles of Boston’s freedom trail, in size 3 tennis shoes, during the summer of 1995.

We worked for the time we spent at amusement parks, and lounging on the beach. The activities and imagery that define most families’ leisure time, amounted to mere footnotes on our rigorous itinerary.

Every meal had meaning, and every minute had a purpose, and beginning on our visit to Lancaster Pennsylvania, my dad woke us up at Sunrise, every morning with a quote from the movie “Witness.”

“4:30, time for milking.”

Back then, all I knew about my dad is that he had a demanding job and a rare, eccentric personality. I figured our hyper-scheduled family vacations were more a product of who he was, rather than how he did things. To me, the bizarre destinations, long driving stretches and multiple lodging changes were an expression of his uniqueness, more than anything else.

In my adulthood, I spend more time with my dad. We talk and email and share meals where I learn about his life through stories and reflection. I’ve pieced together my childhood memories of him: cleaning car windshields while our extended family is gathered inside around coffee and donuts and the Indianapolis 500; inviting my brother and I to accompany him to the hardware store, plant trees in the backyard or pick weeds from the garden on his days off; fixing appliances or building new toys at my grandparents’ house while everyone else is napping on Christmas morning; and, of course, his relentless pursuit of activity during family vacations.

My dad can’t relax.

He is constantly engaged in a project or challenging task. He only sits when he’s sleeping and he’s uncomfortable with small talk and casual conversation.

He lives to work, even when he’s not working.

Three months ago, when I left my own demanding job, I assumed everything in my life would slow down. I thought the free-time and the deep breaths and the lazy Sundays would show up, automatically. I was exhausted, and over-committed and in a constant state of fear that I was forgetting something important. I was answering emails, in my mind, on my yoga mat and rushing out of class with my head down, determined to avoid any conversation that would delay the checking off of the next item on my to-do list.

I was living to work, even when I wasn’t working.

Anytime I share something about my dad with my friend Parker, he has the same response:

“That nut didn’t fall very far from the tree, did it?”

And sure enough, two weeks after I stopped being a lawyer, I was still running, and running, at full speed. I was measurably happier but still incapable of rest and relaxation. I worked fewer hours but filled the space on my schedule with things to accomplish and energetically aggressive activities.

I mapped out each day with a rigorous,  ambitious itinerary.

I still do.

What I remember most about my family vacations are the sounds and feelings in the spaces between the scheduled events: Cracking inside jokes with my brother while we both rode patiently in the back seat; curled up on the floor of the hotel room, re-capping the days events; important life-talks at the edge of the Northern Atlantic Ocean, with sandy hair and half-zipped wet suits.

The uncontrollable laughter and the quiet comfort of recovering from an adventurous day.

What I remember most about my life are the sounds and feelings in the spaces between the scheduled events: Delirious conversations with my best friend, right before bed; sprawled on the floor with my college roommates entrenched in an important feminist dialogue, then suddenly wondering whether Foster’s Freeze is still open; circled up with my camp kids, reliving beautiful moments from another unforgettable summer. Sitting in the dark in Nick’s living room, laughing hysterically at each other, for no reason at all.

The tears. The silence. The long, deep hugs.

Most days it requires my patience, and focus and renewed dedication.

To live fully in the spaces between the demands of my life. To soak up the beauty, the value, the memories, created in the time to relax.

12: Be Love

Lawyer. Talk Show Host. Broadcast Journalist. Elementary School Teacher. Author. Professional Football Coach. Filmmaker. Famous Person. Summer Camp Counselor. Senator. President. Supreme ruler of the new empire.

My first conversations about my future career took place before Kindergarten. At the dinner table. In preschool. On play dates with my friends. The story of my life could be retold as a series of vignettes during which I am pursuing my latest new profession. My earliest memory is that I wanted to be a lawyer. In fifth grade I wrote a letter to myself at age 30. In it, I’m the San Francisco District Attorney. I am wildly accomplished, especially for my age. I went to law school straight out of college and quickly became a northern California lawyering sensation, the youngest woman ever to be a D.A.

As a sixth grader, presiding over student government meetings as our school’s President, I envisioned my life on capitol hill. I am a young, sassy senator with an edgy image and a sophisticated wardrobe. I wear Chanel suits accented with glittery lapel pens and chair the governmental affairs committee. I travel across the country speaking to young girls, at elementary schools, about empowering themselves. Be brave, be heard, be seen, be successful.

In junior high, I have a brief desire to be the next Katie Couric, or Diane Sawyer. I feel comfortable and natural sitting in a big, leather chair in a dimly lit room, firing the tough questions at a recently fallen, pop-culture hero. It’s hard-hitting journalism and I’m the best in the business. It’s analytical, and literary, and likely to make me famous some day. I check off my list of important job attributes and decide this is the one.

High school comes and goes and I care more about keeping my 4.0 and getting a date to homecoming than considering what I want to be when I grow up.

During college it’s clear I was put on the planet to do something revolutionary. I have a passion for serving “underserved” populations and now that I’ve discovered it, the possibilities are endless. I wonder if I should be their lawyer, or their teacher or make a documentary film about them.

Maybe I bring them on my talk show and give them money for college.

My whole life I’ve wanted to be a professional football coach. I’d be like Bill Walsh, but smaller and feistier. I’d stand in the middle of the huddle before games and lead the part where the players jump up and down and yell at each other. I’d hold my clipboard over my face when I’m calling the plays, and mouth the f-word when the refs misses a call. The network camera people will show my mom pacing in a luxury box, appearing completely stressed out, even when we’re winning by ten points.

For all the things I wanted to be, I never considered how I was already being. How I treated people and what it felt like to be around me. Because I didn’t have a value for being kind and compassionate, sometimes I was and sometimes I wasn’t. Being nice to strangers, and even harder, people I knew, wasn’t going to add to my prestige or power or further my climb of the fame ladder toward permanent infamy, so it didn’t matter much, to me.

It’s weird because my mom is the nicest, most compassionate, most loving person on earth.

Three years ago, I was being a yoga teacher and being a law student and being the smart, successful person I always knew I would be. For each new endeavor, I imagined my achievement of its pinnacle as the wonder-drug that would suddenly make me happy.

If everything I already am isn’t enough, there has to be more I can be.

I decided to be different. Everywhere in my life. I dedicated energy and intention to cultivating kindness like it was going to land me my dream job. I decided to be nice first and judge later and treat everyone like they were my best friend, already. I gave more hugs and said more “I love yous” and tried to be more like my mom. It mattered to me how I left a first impression, and how people felt, when they were around me.

The mantras I’d always known: be smart, be rich, be powerful, be perfect- gave way to the only one I needed.

Be love.

Be open. Show compassion. Share your lunch. Give a hug and look into people’s eyes and say hello when you see a stranger. Hold the door open and pick up something someone else dropped. On their birthday, write a long note to the people you love and tell them what they mean to you. When you feel angry and frustrated, breathe in gratitude for the experience of being alive. Remember that everyone has a story, and a reason, they act the way they do. Don’t force people to earn your affection, give freely without expectation.

Being love, for me, requires my full attention. I’m better than I used to be, but still a work in progress. I am sometimes nasty and judgmental and reactive all at once. I take people for granted and I don’t practice gratitude and I’m mean to the people around me. I talk over people, and about people, behind their back.

But I can always return to who and what and how I want to be. And remind myself why it’s important.

Today would have been my friend Heather’s 55th birthday. She was pure love, every day of her life. She wrapped everyone else in it, and helped us spread it around. She was open and honest and because she was completely human, the first to admit when she was being less than loving. When I knew I was losing her, I felt like the world needed me to fill the void of good vibes and love between strangers and pure joy, she’d be leaving. I wanted to preserve her legacy. I knew we would all be worse off without her, and I wanted to ease the suffering, somehow. Heather left her mark on this life by impacting the people in it. With her laugh and smile and energy and wholeness. With the way she made us feel when we were around her.

In every day, in every moment she loved. With kindness and generosity.

At a time in my life when I have no idea what I want to be someday, I know how I can be, until, and after, I figure it out.

10: Find Your People

There’s a three year-old at my summer camp whose favorite color is black. Faith is tiny, and fair-skinned, and looks to be the type who insists on wearing a pink, sparkly tutu, every time she leaves the house. The first time I ask her about it, I barely pause to hear the response. I assume it’s “glitter,” because the girls that look like her are saying that, every time.

It’s 2003 and I just finished my first year of college. I’m the second-oldest person on staff, but it’s the first job I’ve had where someone’s mom doesn’t hand me a wad of cash when I’m done with it. Some days, when my insecurity is talking, I wonder if I still don’t have a career at thirty because I got such a late start at nineteen.

Determined to fly under the “first-job” radar, I’m doing my best to fake ease and maturity, especially when other people are watching. Pretty quickly it’s clear that no one is paying attention. The other kids grew up here and have been working together for multiple, consecutive summers. Four weeks have passed and I’m still struggling to shake the outsider persona. Anything even slightly left or right of “center of attention” is far outside my comfort zone and I’m desperate to sneak into the cool group.

This week, I’m assigned a thirteen year-old junior counselor to “help” me out with my kids. So far my relationship to the junior counselors feels like babysitting a gawky, needy adolescent while chasing and entertaining 10 three year olds, all by myself.

I have no hope for this one. He’s short and keeps his curly dark hair poking out under a dirty, navy blue baseball cap. He wears tall, white, socks and long, black shorts and I decide, right away, he’s one of those dark, brooding, angsty boys who listens to punk rock and loves the color black. I already can’t relate to him, and it’s clear he’s out place at a children’s summer camp.

“It’s going to be a long week.”

By Tuesday, I’ve gleefully determined he’s the least annoying and most competent of the junior counselors. I still hope we don’t end up alone in conversation together because I don’t know anything about angry music or what it feels like to be tortured and deep.  Also, I don’t trust what I might say about his pre-pubescent mustache, if we end up face to face.

I step right into the fire of my anxiety when I see him standing alone at the craft table, twenty minutes after our campers were sent to lunch. I approach him with caution, and remind myself to stay focused on his eyeballs to avoid landing my gaze on his upper lip.

I see him carefully pasting grey and black strips of paper on a sturdy, homemade hat. He is intent on creating smooth creases and straight lines. Our craft that day was “Cat in the Hat” Hats, an unthinkably ambitious project for kids who can barely remember their own names.

Peter is finishing the last of our hats for Faith. He tells me, matter-of-factly, “I figured she’d only wear it like this.”

My heart melts and I vow never to judge another person again. I barely keep my promise through the end of the day, but Peter is embedded in my heart, forever.

In the next three days, we laugh and joke and mess with our kids, like we’ve been best friends for three lifetimes. I discover that Peter is smart and hilarious and weirder than anyone I’d ever met who wasn’t related to me. I’ve suddenly lost interest in breaking through the inner circle because I’m preoccupied with spending more time with my new friend.

Peter has a summer birthday and turns fourteen. He’s talking to me about starting high school and I remind him I’m already in college. We talk about school and romance and other kids at the summer camp. We share stories about our parents and siblings, and once in a while, I listen as he educates me about all the music he’s “into” right now.

Peter is my first friend that doesn’t look or act like the rest of them. He’s not the right age or the right image and it’s clear we’ll never go to a concert together. But for seven more summers, we are what we’ve always been to each other.

In 2004, my real-life best friend comes to work with us and is immediately sad and jealous. She’s been my partner in crime since we were thirteen and she’s not settling for someone else interfering. She throws three fits per week until, eventually, she senses the specialness of our bond and surrenders to unexpected truth of it.

In 2005, I decide I’m too old to sing songs and play tag for eight weeks and accept a serious, world-saving internship for the summer. Two and a half weeks later I’m on the bumper boats at Scandia Family Fun Center, taunting Peter about his loss in miniature golf.

The next morning I call my supervisor to tell her I’m moving home for “personal reasons.”

Peter graduated from high school and went away to college and things never changed between us. He was still my soulmate and my best friend and the boundary of age and experience continued to not matter to either of us. He grew up and confessed how awesome it was to have the attention of a nineteen year old woman when he was barely a high school freshman. I felt humiliated and naive as I admitted it was something I never considered.

It’s been over a decade since I met Peter, and three years since I left Camp Have a lot of Fun. In the time between, there have been other, unconventional friendships. Most of them were born out of the unique and beautiful family at summer camp, but some of them blossomed organically at the yoga studio or the high school where I used to work.

My friendship with Peter opened me to the possibility that “my people” could be something other than who they’d always been. It taught me that the people we belong to, and belong with, are out there for us to find and connect to. Our job is to seek them. Our “tribe”, our “community”, “our people”, are the ones who were always meant for us.  The ones with whom we never had to fake it. The people who see us, and get us, and accept us as we are, no matter what. The people we spark with, and the ones who make us feel safe. The people we show our weirdest and deepest and ugliest to, right away.

I cherish the thirteen year-old boy who loved me unconditionally, because I’ve been able to spot the ones who were capable of it, ever since.

9: Learning to Cook

“Something’s wrong.”

Forty five minutes into my first night-time baby sitting gig and I’m already seeking help from my mom. The cordless phone is cradled between my left ear and the top of my left shoulder and I’m hovering over a suspicious-looking pot of macaroni and cheese.

My simmering concoction is soupier than the version I’ve eaten more than 200 times in my life, signaling me to consult an expert. While we’re talking through it, I pick up the pace of my wooden-spoon stir stroke, trying to blend away the extra liquid. When my wrist fatigues, I wonder what it is about this process that seems easy enough to leave a fourteen year-old babysitter alone to execute. I describe what I see to my mom, and she’s convinced my failure is not for my lack of effort, but “maybe something else.”

She asks me to repeat back to her what I’ve done.

When I get to the part about the four cups of milk, she identifies the root cause of my disaster.

Apparently I have a rare learning disability that presents as mathematical dyslexia, but only when I’m reading recipes, to make food, to feed to starving kids.

Now the kids are hungry and  fresh out of fun things to do without me and my mom is resisting my request to come over. I feel panicky and inadequate and like my whole life has led up to this moment and with the game on the line I fumble in the end zone.

I decide to stop cooking forever.

And for fourteen years, it’s easy to keep my word.

My mom gets hopeful during my last year of high school when I pick up her addiction to Food Network. Back then the programming was mostly “how-tos” performed by young cooks who are now aging stars, with considerably more fame, and just a little extra weight. I learn how to season both sides of a steak and avoid over-mixing brownie batter. I learn about searing and roasting and the balancing flavors. I could whip cream and food process and create a white-wine reduction.

If only I hadn’t vowed I never would.

In college, I didn’t have time for Food Network and lived in such a frenzy of activity, I forgot I ever did. I spent countless days on campus where eight or ten hours would pass with only the consumption of a Wetzel’s pretzel, and a diet coke. I ate strawberry sour straws to stay awake in class and returned home every night to find my area of the refrigerator empty, again.

I stashed sleeves of Oreos in our freezer for nights when I hadn’t eaten anything at all.

When my best friend Alice became my roommate, she insisted on making me plates and plates of potstickers because “if I don’t feed you, I know you’ll only eat M&Ms.”

Post-college life looked essentially the same except I moved back to my home town where my mom could make me dinner, at least once a week.

On my twenty-fifth birthday, I still didn’t own my own set of plates, or a single pot or pan.

I don’t remember how everything shifted, or when it was exactly. But sometime during my third year of law school, I decided to learn to cook. It felt like a new, hip hobby. Something I could talk to people about in public when they looked bored with, or disinterested in yoga. I thought it might be fun and was certain it was a more valuable use of the internet than my current, less-hip hobby: trolling Facebook.

I mostly cooked vegetables and experimented with wholesome baked goodies. Vegetables were tasty but less-than-challenging and wholesome baked goodies never tasted as delicious as the not-wholesome ones. I stayed on it, though, allowing myself to grow in small spurts, if never long strides. I got hooked on food blogs and reunited with my friends from the Food Network. With a ball of knotty anxiety in my stomach, I started to share my food with the friends I’d made in real life.

People were openly accepting and universally supportive, no matter the quality of food I delivered. One afternoon, I poisoned my friend Parker with a faulty batch of questionable deviled eggs, and later that night he requested something else home-made from my kitchen.

There were mediocre outcomes and outright failures. Sometimes the catastrophe was equal to my inaugural episode, and occasionally it was even worse.

Sometimes I’d make something I was so proud of, I’d send my mom pictures, and the recipe, to prove it.

When I’d get really deep in it, I’d call my mom three or four times to clarify tricks and tips and memories I’d internalized over so many years of watching, but not cooking.

For me, learning to cook is a practice of patience, and courage and vulnerability. It is the only thing I’ve ever loved, that I’m not particularly good at. Cooking is where my ego surrenders to my heart, and where I live in the pure joy and spirit of the experience. Cooking is how I tell people I care for them and where I go for meditation.

It is hard, and frustrating and rewarding and changing, and awesome and peaceful, every time I do it.

5: Magic

The local news can’t stop reporting about El Nino, an alleged, rare, extreme weather pattern that is supposedly responsible for three straight weeks of storms in Northern California.

My soccer team is preparing for our first visit to the association cup championship, the highest level of tournament play in our league. All season, we are unstoppable. Undefeated. No one can touch us.

But heading into the most anticipated, high-stakes weekend of competition in any of our young athletic careers, everyone is worried.

The fields are hopelessly muddy and every night, the forecast is for more and more rain. The altered terrain changes the movement of the ball and the speed of play. The bitter cold and relentless drops of water, in our eyes, and on our backs, make us more vulnerable to mistakes, and aggravates the plague of fatigue.

We are an unconventional powerhouse.

We are not exceptionally fast, or big, or otherwise spectacularly talented. Less than five percent of us will go on to play in college. Most of us maintain straight A’s and juggle a host of other extra-curricular activities. We are swimmers and volleyball players and school and community leaders. As grown-ups, we are career-minded professionals, with high-paying jobs and impressive degrees.

We joke about not having matching warm-up suits or fancy, embroidered bags.

We are full of heart and determination and because our coach believes in our greatness, we work incredibly hard in practice, and never let up during games.

Our chemistry and team work is like nothing I’d ever experienced, and nothing I’ve been a part of since.

When the morning of our first game arrives, it’s still raining. Our parents, who have only ever had to endure an entire weekend of soccer games through November, are faithfully huddled on the sidelines, after the first of the year. They are clad in REI ponchos and squeezed together under four or five umbrellas. Looking on through a blurry sheet of rain, they can barely tell us apart.

Before halftime, we are caked, head-to-toe in mud. It’s the kind of cold outside that makes your fingers tingle and your skin sting. The intense sensation seeps into your bones, lingers, then unexpectedly evaporates as your whole body goes numb. Our legs are burning, constantly. With each stride our feet sink into the deep, unforgiving muck.  The ball is sticky, our shoes are sticky, everything is a sticky, wet, mess.

Each moment is a battle, each play is a battle, each game feels like another war we barely survived.

In the end, we win the whole, damn, thing. The final whistle blows and we are, suddenly, light on our feet. We sprint towards the center line and triumphantly dive, head-first, through a gigantic mud puddle, four games in the making.

We hug and holler and celebrate. We are giddy, and teary-eyed and so, so, proud.

My coach is beaming.

The moment is instantly an eternal memory in my mind

During eight years on the River City Magic, I learned more lessons than, maybe, the rest of my life, combined. I learned about leadership and work ethic.  Straight talk and disappointment. I learn to stand up for myself, stand behind my teammates, and stand back, eventually, when I got out of line.

Where I lacked natural talent, I learned to struggle, and persist, and succeed.

My greatest lesson, though, is in the miracle of our collective achievements. Our three year winning record. Two state championships. More trophies than my parents could find space to store in my childhood bedroom. All of it came in the brilliance of how we operated, together. I used to think someone like John Wooden should write a book about us called “Teamwork over talent.” We were, as they say, so much greater than the sum of our parts.

It’s a mild winter and my adult soccer team is undefeated, for the first time. These days, I play with less fear and more muscle. I play defense, not midfield, now, and do my best to channel my inner Heather Hall. We called her, “the animal.” She was a tough kid from a tough neighborhood and on our team, was the only person we could say that about. She could have easily felt out of place and totally alone and quit after just one season of it.

But she didn’t.

She played every season, and started every game. She shared in our hugs and sleepovers and trips to Hometown buffet.

Because who we were and where we came from never mattered.

All of us, were a lot of things, without each other.

But together, we were Magic.