I skipped posting on the last full moon — the first one of 2016. Why? — a combination of forgetting and then feeling too busy to post. Last year it was fun to post on or before the full moon — at least once a month. That was less frequently than I was posting when I started Packing Lust in June 2012, when we were just starting off on our adventure of living overseas. Around once a month felt about right for last year, the big year of being a new parent.
After moving to Los Angeles just a few days before Christmas 2015, there’s been a lot going on. We lived in a temporary furnished apartment near the La Brea Tar Pits (which was awesome — not the pits at all) for a few weeks before finding a charming apartment mere feet from the spot Prince Charming and I met in 2010. We couldn’t resist living in and around the same apartment complex where we fell in love, not to mention the fact that we have dear friends who live walking distance away. This building is almost 100 years old and the place itself has needed a bit more work to make it clean and functional than a newer place would.
There’s more too. With every move, I’ve handled the instability and unknown somewhat well. But this last move has been harder than the little temporary moves before it that helped us to adjust to life back in the states. Since I know we’re going to be here for at least a year, I have plans. I’ve been nesting. And I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to get and keep my home cleaned, childproofed, painted, decorated, etc. And it’s still not done… even though we’ve been here for almost a month. Which is pretty normal, except that I feel like I’ve dropped my writing, this blog, and everything else to work on it. I definitely overestimated the amount of projects I could get done while also making sure my 14-month-old isn’t running around with scissors in one hand and a knife in the other. And while making sure that I don’t miss his adorable smiles, games of peekaboo, and delightful discoveries.
Now I’m feeling overwhelmed and sort of stagnant at the same time. I need to give us more time to settle in and find more patience with the process.
Missing my normal full moon post last month made me realize I needed to think about when and what I want to post on Packing Lust in 2016. So I’m going to keep thinking about what I want to make of this blog in this new year. Until then, Packing Lust will be on hiatus.
I like having this blog as a way to share photos and stories in packing, travel, and adventures. It’s been a sort of family photo album, a way to stay in touch with anyone who wants to, and place to practice writing. But I’m not sure that with everything already on my plate there’s room for it right now. We’ll see.
I’m hoping to continue to share some of our adventures and simple living toolkit stuff on social media, so make sure you’re following me on Instagram if you want to keep in touch for right now.
It’s time to sum up the year on Packing Lust! This is my fourth year doing this, and it’s one of my favorite ways to get the big picture and remember the year as a whole.
In 2015, we didn’t travel outside of the U.S., however we certainly did some significant traveling and moving within the states. It was a family-focused year as we learned to parent and watch Bump thrive over the course of his first year of life. Our doggie, Jelly Bean, spent a few months living with my parents and then reunited with us in Washington, D.C. in October. At the end of the year we moved again (yes, just a couple days ago) and we’re having fun in our new city.
Of the dozens of books I read this year, my top three favorites were:
- Dying to Be Me — A kind of spiritual-health memoir by Anita Moorjani about her near death experience and subsequent speedy healing from cancer. She shares her unusual experience in vivid and convincing detail and what she learned about the importance of living fearlessly and as true to her self as possible.
2. Me Before You: a Novel — I’ve read two Jojo Moyes books and both placed one of their main characters in the type of ethical quandary that most of us will never have to experience. This one is about the relationship between a paralyzed man with a death wish and one of his caretakers. I loved the masterful storytelling and the way it helped me see the central question from several perspectives.
3. Life in Motion: an Unlikely Ballerina — Misty Copeland’s memoir reveals her journey to become the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. I loved the window into the life of an elite dancer driven by the pursuit of excellence. Most of us will never experience being a prodigy in anything; this books lets you share the excitement of being 14 and discovering that you are one of the world’s most naturally talented ballerinas. I was also impressed with the storytelling; it manages to be a page-turner even though we already know the happy ending to the story. I laughed; I cried. At one point I had to put the book down and dance alone in the room just to express the triumph I shared with her. This book is for anyone who ever worked hard on a dream and had to overcome unexpected obstacles to achieve excellence.
Having had baby boy Bump in late November 2014, I was two things: A) tired and B) excited to maintain my writing habit and keep the creative juices flowing.
To help out with A) I featured a guest post on creating a digital vision board to inspire your travel dreams and B) I did a 7-day blogging challenge.
My only post for February was a 2014 year in review piece. I guess I was still sleep-deprived from those early months as a new parent.
This month I launched SimpleLivingToolkit.com where I help people to declutter and join the simple living movement. I kept getting advice to narrow down/focus what I do to help people with my business (it’s so hard when I do a variety of things, both to help people and just to express my creativity) so this new website was my answer. Join other simple living enthusiasts by signing up here.
This month I felt that it was time to share what I’d learned about about two things. One: self-publishing. Two: keeping things simple (stuff-wise) when you have a baby. Check out the very shareable “Minimalist Baby” list.
Also this month I launched my “Start a Daily Writing Habit” email coaching series. It’s awesome and a great way to kick start yourself if you want to write more in 2016.
I posted my first and only packing related piece this year in June. It’s about how you pack differently when you become a mommy and how certain things are less glamorous than… I thought they would be. I also blogged about a couple trips I took to Charleston, South Carolina.
We moved from Lumberton, NC, to Arlington, VA and I wrote about the ups and downs of big city life with a baby.
I reflected on how simple living lets me enjoy textures and details.
Though my book on habits to help you make money from your creativity is very behind schedule, I did work on it this year with additional research. I posted this month and later in the year when I found articles about creativity and about the changing landscape of making money as a creative.
Don’t worry ; I didn’t let the year go by without publishing. Prince Charming and I co-wrote a book called Simple Kitchen and published it this month to Amazon Kindle and Audible. It’s a quick read you’ll want to check out if you like keeping things simple in the kitchen without sacrificing the cooking experience.
After moving to the Washington, D.C. area last month, we enjoyed exploring our new city including a trip to Teddy Island.
We explored the Washington, D.C. area. You know us; it was all about the food.
Creative types may enjoy my notes on an interview that Elizabeth Gilbert gave in which she talked about fear and creativity and being a grown-up.
We moved within the D.C. metro area from Arlington, Virginia to the Columbia Heights area of Washington.
I traveled to Black Mountain, North Carolina, reuniting with a bunch of family on my mom’s side to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th’s birthday.
We enjoyed exploring our neighborhood of Washington (Columbia Heights) on foot and living car-free. On the blog, I wrote about a memory of a snow ball fight I had back in Palestine in 2013. Bump turned one this month and started walking just before he hit that milestone birthday.
We moved to Los Angeles on the eve of Christmas Eve. Now, rather unexpectedly, but very happily, we’re back in the city where Prince Charming and I met over five and a half years ago. I’m looking forward to what life in this city over the next year brings.
Would you rather listen to this story? Click the player to listen to my reading:
I was out walking in the snow when I saw a group of young men who made me begin to doubt the wisdom of my stroll.
They emerged from a hookah joint housed in the bottom floor of a large building in downtown Ramallah, the seat of the government of Palestine. I was the only woman around, the only person around on the deserted, snow-gray streets. Just me and the red-eyed men drifting out of the café toward me.
It had been snowing for days. All across the West Bank, there was an extended power outage. People washed with water heated on a gas stove and huddled around their propane heaters. We had two; the larger one we lovingly called our R2D2, and the smaller one we delighted in calling by the brand name etched onto its metal plate: ORGAZ. I was still cold. No matter how many blankets I layered around me or heaters I crouched in front of, my feet and nose stayed cold. I was angry cold. Bored cold.
The anger, fueled by the cold and pent-up energy, made me feel restless and twitchy. I bundled up, put some plastic bags over my shoes to help keep the three feet of snow out, and announced to Prince Charming that I was going for a walk. I left with a quick “bye!” without giving him much time to respond. I heard him manage to eke out a “be safe!” and I was off.
My cabin fever was quickly replaced by wonder. Glittering snow banks smothered the garden and turned trees into bowing swans. Getting from our apartment’s vestibule to the street was tricky. I had to find a way around and through the snow banks. Having grown up mostly in moderate climes where a few inches of snow a year was the norm, I had no snow-walking skills to draw from. Each step I took was a new experience. My foot would sink down six inches, then when I lifted up the other foot that first one would sink down another ten inches into the snow. I hobbled my way out to the street, where the snow was less thick and a truck had made a pack-snow indentation I could follow.
I threw my head back and gazed at the sky to take in the joy of being outdoors, finally. It was still snowing, gently, not the thick blizzard of the last few days. When I got to the main street, I could turn left, or I could turn right. Left would take me away from the city center. Right would take me towards the city center, Al-Manara, where there’s a monument with four stone lions that has become the iconic backdrop to many Palestinian protests against the Israeli occupation. I turned right. The city was feeling a little post-apocalyptic-deserted, and I was hoping I’d bump into someone in the center, anyone, a friendly face. I imagined we’d gesticulate to each other about the beauty of the snow; it would be easy even though we might not speak the same language.
But instead of a friendly face, I saw the men. Unsmiling young men, maybe seven, with more behind them, jacked up on nicotine. One puff on a hookah pipe was, I’d heard, the equivalent of smoking a bundle of ten cigarettes, so if they’d been smoking all morning, well, it was as if they’d already smoked hundreds of cigarettes that day. Restless energy coursed through their wiry bodies. I’d heard these young men called “shebab.” I wasn’t sure what it meant. It seemed to denote “youth,” but the connotation was “unemployed, disenfranchised, hopeless, able-bodied boys and men who must roam the streets because they have nothing else to do.” As they emerged from the café, I was reminded of a scene from the 2007 movie I Am Legend, where Will Smith’s character is stalked by bloodthirsty mutants who hibernate in clusters in dark corners of the city. They moved slowly in my direction, as if meandering, but their bloodshot eyes, I noticed, were intensely focused. On me.
Suddenly I felt very self-conscious. Afraid. My active imagination quickly supplied me with headlines of the “Brutal Gang Rape” variety. I had a friend who’d been sexually harassed on the street not far from where I was. I looked around, behind me. No one. Just me and the shebab grouping. Get a grip, I thought. These are not bloodthirsty mutants. These are people, just like me, curious. It’s human curiosity to want to see the foreigner walking by herself in the snow.
But I had to take action. I couldn’t continue my walk onwards, knowing I was getting farther from home and that I’d have to walk past the shebab again on my way back. I’d be scared the whole time. I couldn’t turn around either, not without an interaction. I didn’t know how they’d take it. It might be okay. Or they might follow me back, harassing me the whole way, finding out where I lived. They might just leave me alone, thinking I was scared of them, which was true.
Either way, they’d have effectively ruined my stroll, and the thought made me angry. I wasn’t going to let these guys ruin my outing. I was so tired of sticking out on the street, of being the foreigner, of being looked at with an inscrutable combination of lecherousness and discomfort. I was an oddball. An American woman who wasn’t afraid to go jogging on the streets, show my knees, or yell curse words at wayward bus drivers.
So I bent down, packed some snow together, and, smiling, hurled a ball of snow at the man closest to me.
My snowball glanced off his legs. His reaction took a moment. Surprise. Then delight. Whether malicious or kind, I couldn’t tell.
I was betting that the bridge-building power of a good snowball fight was universal. He gathered up a snowball of his own, and pitched. His was no lob. The speed ball hit me square in the face, the impact leaving me breathless. I couldn’t feel my mouth or nose anymore. When sensation started to come back, everything stung. I tried to smile, hoping that’s what my mouth was doing; I still couldn’t really feel my face. Bleak pain.
Oppressed young men of the West Bank have one weapon left. One way to fight back, vent frustration, protest, cause damage. Stone throwing. They learn young and, as observed by horrified Israelis, can do impressive damage and some even claim there have been several deaths resulting from stone throwing. I’d picked a snowball fight with throwing experts.
I gathered my second snowball and made what I was hoping would be seen as a spirited throw, a game attempt by the obvious underdog. But instead of cheering me on, one of the bystanders joined his fellow shebab and chucked another snowball at me. Then a third joined the fight against me. At this rate I’d be unconscious within moments, was my only slightly hyperbolic thought.
I had to win allies, and fast. I opened my arms wide, palms up, trying to figure out how to get some of these guys on my team. My Arabic was meager at best, but in the moment I remembered how to ask for help. I tried the phrase, pointing to two others who hadn’t gotten involved so far. I gestured, inviting them to my side. I tried to say some numbers I’d learned, Arabic to express that I needed more people I my team.
They understood. I could see it click: of course. A fair fight. Three against three. Quickly a couple of them joined my side scooping up snow and throwing icy projectiles at the other shebab.
Chivalry wasn’t dead. Disparity would be addressed. Justice might win.
I exhaled a huge sigh of relief. And despite my aching face and earlier apprehension, I started to have fun. More customers of the hookah cafe joined both teams.
After what I shall diplomatically refer to as a tie, we ended the game. Our hands were cold, blood was pumping, spirits were high. We were all one team, just a group of young people playing in the snow. I waved goodbye, said “Ma’a Salama.”
I walked home no longer angry cold or bored cold. I’d found a friendly face. More than one.
On October 3rd, my maternal grandmother, Peggy Paparella, celebrated her 80th birthday. As you can see from these photos, she’s vibrant and beautiful (with remarkably great legs) at this age and seems ready to take on a new decade. She has filled her life with love, creativity, service, and travel, and plans to keep doing what she’s doing. (It’s working, after all.) She seems to really enjoy her life and the love she shares with my grandpa, who she’s been married to for fifty-five years.
Grandma has figured out how to wed her creativity with her desire to be of service. She does this in several ways. She gave birth to six children, which any parent will tell you, demands a great many acts of service. Nowadays her creativity takes the form of cooking, baking, sewing, crocheting, knitting, and crafting. She donates many of her hand-made items to be sold at auction to benefit the local Hospice. Other items she gives away to one of her thirty-one descendants.
So how is it possible to be so prolific while maintaining her energy and joy? Grandma hasn’t always had an easy life, and her childhood and adolescence was difficult at times. Yet she rarely complains. She practices kindness and forgiveness and has a soft, tender heart. Grandma also has a very active spiritual life, praying many times a day and starting each day with a written back-and-forth conversation with Jesus. In my family we say “if Grandma’s praying for you, watch out.” God seems to listen to her more than the rest of us, so if I have a tough situation, I call up Grandma and Grandpa and I don’t even have to ask; I know they are praying for me. For years they were praying for my future husband, so you know I’m not kidding around when I discuss the efficacy of their prayers and the special place Grandma has in God’s heart.
Grandma credits her physical health to “living with a man who likes to eat well and eat healthily,” which makes her want to eat healthily too. She said this with the barest hint of chagrin; grandma’s love for bread, pasta, and sweets is well known and has been passed along to many of her progeny.
She keeps things low stress, and says she doesn’t have much anxiety in her life, except, she adds with a twinkle in her eye, when Grandpa is driving their big RV, which is one of their favorite ways to travel.
She also keeps her mind active by reading a lot. She recently told me she’d just gotten back from the library with a huge stack of books, which she’ll consume quickly. When her supply of unread books starts to dwindle, she starts getting nervous about running out of reading material. She wrote me that, “Time to read a good book is one pleasure that I reward myself after I get my work done on some days. Other days it could be a craft project or baking cookies or knitting something special for the great grand babies.”
She says “A wise woman once told me, wake up in the morning and make a plan to do something that you’ll enjoy.” This idea of having something planned each day that you can look forward to, a way to get back the sparkle when life seems dull, exhausting, or depressing, has stuck with Grandma and helped her stay happy.